2.7 Truth

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"Teacher!" an adolescent ummin shouted as Thomas floated past.

He supposed that was an upgrade from "Torth," but he was in no mood to entertain ummins. He needed a serious distraction, such as the Megacosm.  If he couldn't have that ...

He angled towards the sleeping potion.

"Teacher." The ummin jogged to catch up with his hoverchair. "I have a lot of questions. First of all, explain to me how your chair floats?"

Thomas sighed. He couldn't escape without breaking his promise to answer villagers.

"Oh, wait. I have other questions," the adolescent said. "How are blaster gloves made? Also, how many people live in a city? Why do Torth live there? Can Torth really fly between the stars? How do they do that?"

Thomas dipped into the ummin's mind to assess his best learning method. "All right, Varktezo," he said. That was the kid's name. Although the kid was probably the same age as Thomas, or near enough, it was hard for Thomas to consider most people his equals.

"If you fetch me a piece of charcoal," he told Varktezo, "and a scrap of stretched uthda bark, I'll be able to show you some answers."

Varktezo scampered away with a puzzled look.

He returned within a minute, deposited the items on Thomas's lap, then leaped back as if he expected magical explosions.

Thomas took another quick peek into Varktezo's mind, and ascertained that the ummin couldn't imagine the purpose of charcoal and bark together. To Varktezo, anything Thomas did was unpredictable, and might be a sort of magic.

That was fine, as long as the ummins didn't expect too much. They had better not demand miracles or anything like what Alex did. Thomas began to sketch outlines onto the bark.

"What are you doing?" Varktezo dared to come closer.

Thomas added charcoal shading between skyscrapers. "This is a city. This is how it looks when you're outside of one."

Varktezo gawked.

"This is the city where we came from," Thomas went on, sketching details. "Approximately eight million Torth live in these buildings, and they're served by thirty-two million slaves."

Other ummins crept closer, wary of the mind reader in their midst, yet curious. They dragged over a couple of barrels so they could take turns standing up high, peering at his drawing. The precocious adolescents, like Varktezo, were stowed underground in order to keep them safe from getting collared and abducted. The rest were lifelong cripples.

Alex had been unable to transform everyone in the hideout into a working slave. He might be disappointed, but it was surely for the best. Maybe Alex would learn to accept people the way they were. He needed to quit trying to transform Thomas into his loyal sidekick. It wasn't going to happen.

"That is amazing," Kessa said in a tone of awe.

She had joined the crowd of ummins, peering over their shoulders. The mental cacophony was worse than usual, as the ummins visually drank in the hyper-realistic details he'd rendered in charcoal, from the glare of sunlight to the darkest shadows. Airborne traffic soared between curvaceous towers and swirls of dust.

He supposed he'd soaked up more than his fair share of art skills.

"Can all Torth make pictures like that?" Varktezo demanded.

"No," Thomas admitted.

"Is it common?" Varktezo asked, marveling at the drawing. "How many can do it? One in five? One in twenty?"

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