3.8 Rogue Red

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Alex eased sideways through the doorway of the hut, and unbent his body, joints popping, until he stretched to his full height of over nine feet tall.

He might be a target, towering over the roofs of huts. He was surely a massive freak to Margo and everyone else. But he felt as if he'd been unable to take a full breath until now, cooped up inside caves or prison cells. He hadn't been able to stretch for months.

He tried not to look at all the obliterated mind readers. Without their expressionless faces, the dead bodies were indistinguishable from humans.

"Pung wants us to follow him." Margo shaded her eyes so she could look at Alex. He was certain that she would never touch him again, now that she saw him in daylight, standing at his full height.

Instead, she grabbed his hand and tugged. "Come on. He said we should hurry."

Alex let her pull him up the blood-soaked street.

The air smelled like a lush summer, and the alien sun was shining, but the village no longer looked like the idyllic place they had entered a few days ago. Alex was tall enough to see the ruination from end to end. Villagers wandered like ghosts in search of an afterlife, speaking in whispers, hugging each other in unspoken farewells.

He tried to tell himself that it was worth it. All the hundreds of dead Torth must have abused their personal slaves, and now they would never harm anyone again.

But the Torth Empire had an endless supply of abusive tyrants. He knew that. Any slaves left without owners would simply be auctioned off to another petty, selfish mind reader.

And the villagers of Duin would be condemned because of this slaughter, he felt sure.

"Alex." Margo squeezed his hand. "Whatever might happen to Duin, it will be worse if we stay."

He searched for words to explain the wrongness he felt. It wasn't just guilt. He didn't think so, anyway. The sky ought to be gloomy, instead of a sunny, clear aqua green. He had a feeling that something bad was ... impending.

It felt like his last day on Earth, when he'd expected a snowy lightning storm, with howling winds, instead of a calm and snowy evening. Then the Torth Empire had crashed through his sky room window.

He tried to shrug away his worries. "I just have a weird feeling that something will go wrong."

Margo took the statement far harder than he'd expected. She looked stunned.

She rushed ahead, pulled aside Alex's mother, and whispered something to her. Soon they were both whispering, looking over their shoulders at Alex.

"What?" Alex studied them. Were they concerned about his sanity?

His mother gave him a fierce stare. "Alex, do you think Thomas's plan is going to fail?"

"I wouldn't know." Alex wished he'd never mentioned his foreboding. There was no reason for him to spread fear and uncertainty in the midst of a life-or-death escape.

He tried to sound reassuring. "If anyone can get us off this planet, it's Thomas."

Neither of them looked reassured.

"This may sound like a strange question," his mother said to him. "But have you had any nightmares lately?"

The last thing Alex wanted to do was describe the dream where he'd walked atop a mountain of corpses, including his mother's dead body. Thomas must have mentioned something about it. He would need to remind the boy to keep his absorbed secrets to himself.

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