2.4 Born on Earth, pt 1

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Alex knew his respite couldn't last forever, but a childish part of him must have believed in the lasting sanctuary of the cave. He'd expected a few days of freedom, at least. Maybe a week.

A dread was growing inside him. Even if he had a ludicrous amount of untapped power, he was not a berserk murderer. He would never destroy a metropolis full of people, let alone millions of planets. His rages in the arena had been brought on by stress, torture, suicidal despair, and a mood-altering helmet. That wasn't who he ever wanted to be again.

"Thomas?" He hesitated. He wanted to ask if it was feasible to sneak away, but it might be wise to resist saying that out loud. These villagers—and his friends—needed hope. They didn't need reminders of how unpracticed and incompetent their Bringer of Hope might be.

"Our options are limited." Thomas folded his stick-thin arms and leaned back to meet Alex's gaze. "One thing I think everyone should get through their heads, including you, is that you're not a demigod. Even if you could get rid of the army on our doorstep, the Torth would just send a bigger and better army. We can't sustain an escalating fight."

Alex kept the relief off his face. At least one person wasn't counting on him to destroy the Torth Empire. Thomas understood that he wasn't any sort of hero.

He just hoped the villagers wouldn't suffer if he sneaked away.

"We need to go home to Earth," Margo said.

"Put that out of your mind," Thomas told her. "Even if we managed to get there, Earth is the first place they'd search. It's out of the question."

Margo looked devastated.

Alex wanted to deny what Thomas had said, just to give her hope. But all he felt for Earth was a sense of distance. To him, home meant clocks ticking in distant rooms, and corners that collected shadows. Early darkness in winter. Dreary rain in summer. Loneliness.

"We could live in another country and change our names," his mother suggested. "That's what Garrett did."

"Oh, sure," Thomas said. "No one will notice the nine-and-a-half foot tall giant."

Alex figured he would always be a target. The rest of them might be better off without him.

"We could hide Alex in a bunker," his mother said. "An old silo, or something like that."

She might as well be describing their mansion. It was built like a fortress, covered by towering trees, and hidden off an unmapped road. Alex guessed that his great-grandfather had actually built it for the purpose of staying hidden. And it had worked for decades. Garrett had raised a family, rather than using his powers to free cities full of slaves and destroy armies of Torth. 

That gave Alex a shameful sense of relief. Old Garrett hadn't quite been able to live up to his own reputation. Maybe Alex didn't have to live up to it, either.

"We can't go to Earth," Thomas said, as if teaching a class of dull students. "The Torth Empire believed Jonathan Stead was dead, so they never searched for him. We're in a different situation, in a different era. The Torth never make the same mistake twice." 

Alex had heard the legend of Jonathan Stead from the slave perspective, but the Torth version might offer insights into what he could do. "How did Jonathan Stead escape?" he asked. "What happened?"

"It doesn't matter," Thomas said. "It's history."

Villagers left them alone, hurrying into the tunnel in droves. The ummins were probably making the slave farm look populated, as normal. They would need to avoid using the trapdoor while Torth prowled their ruined village.

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