3.3 The Code of Gwat

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Margo repackaged a bundle of supplies, determined to make it sturdy, so an ummin could wear it like a backpack. It seemed impossible to get the grain wafers and jerky strips to stay in place around the water gourd.

"We're supposed to make this last several days?" She couldn't hide her doubts. The paltry amount of food and water didn't look like enough to sustain a large crew. Her family used to pack more for their camping trip each summer.

"Longer," Kessa said, tying another pack together. "We are going to a planet with no Torth. All we will have is what we can carry. He said we will need to make our own food."

Cherise added in a venomous tone, "Because loading a ship is a slave's job."

That was what Thomas had said, word for word. Margo figured he meant to explain why they wouldn't find an unguarded ship with food provisions--he was blunt--but it seemed asinine for a mind reader to be so insensitive. If he was trying to act more human, then maybe he shouldn't keep reminding his listeners of their slave status.

As Margo watched, Cherise tied together another perfectly packaged travel bundle. She did it with such expertise, it was as if she'd been building rustic travel packs all her life.

Thomas was busy instructing villagers on how to use blaster gloves, and other, more mysterious, activities. He acted like a general commanding troops. Meanwhile, Pung helped villagers take turns practicing with the single blaster glove, using rocks for target practice. They pretended that the rocks were Torth heads.

Cherise's gaze sharpened on Thomas, just for a split second. Her hatred was impossible to miss.

"Please don't kill him." Margo kept her tone light, hoping to make it a joke. "I think he's genuinely trying to help us."

Cherise went back to folding supplies into neat packages. Her subtle smile could mean anything. She had always been hard to read.

One of the elders seemed to be rounding up a group. "Naglitay ... Irarjeg ... Varktezo ... Gosmaga ..."

"Our group," Kessa said, nodding towards the roundup. "She is choosing who will travel with the Bringer of Hope."

Margo looked away. It wasn't fair to only save a small percentage of the villagers who had risked their lives to shelter and protect them.

Alex had said as much. He sat apart from everyone else, cross-legged, as if meditating, but pebbles swirled around him like dust orbiting a planet. Maybe he was practicing to save more villagers. He had acted as if he quietly accepted Thomas's plan, but Margo suspected he would try to save everyone in Duin at the last minute.

That might mean doom for all of them. Thomas kept emphasizing that their window of opportunity would be short; they couldn't linger in Duin. If they stayed, they were dead. If Alex insisted on staying to protect the village ... someone might have to drag him away.

"You are right about these supplies, Margo." Kessa reached for a gourd canteen, and started to build another pack. "We don't have enough for everyone, especially for Alex and Weptolyso."

To an ummin, the two giants probably seemed to eat like horses. Margo thought they were eating too little, relative to their size. Alex hadn't looked so lean when she'd first met him.

He'd used his powers to tear a sackcloth blanket into something like a shirt, laced up around his frame. He'd made footwear, too, laced up like a Roman soldier. He still looked like a refugee from a prison camp—they all did, except for Thomas—but with his face clean-shaven and his hair trimmed, he looked respectable.

And appealing.

Margo tried not to look at Alex too much. She packed supplies, and reminded herself that his mother was close enough to watch everything he did. She didn't want unnecessary strain on her friendship with Lynn. Besides ...

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