Alex looked embarrassed. "I wish I could have done a lot more."

"You did more than you admit, I think." Kessa trotted up the ramp, followed by members of the departure crew. A few gave her worshipful looks which she didn't notice.

Alex knelt, and touched his forehead towards the chief elder. "I will never forget Duin."

She returned the gesture of respect.

Thomas floated into view. "Let's go," he said without a trace of sympathy. "I'm not waiting around for long goodbyes. We leave right now." He made shooing motions towards the ramp.

Lynn climbed aboard. Next came Pung and Weptolyso, and Margo backed away to make room for the nussian. The transport tilted a little from his weight.

Alex and Thomas glanced at each other. If they were deciding who should go first, Thomas quickly won. He rolled his eyes, then backed up his hoverchair so he'd have enough room to build up speed.

"I can help," Alex offered.

But Thomas zoomed past him, flying up the ramp so fast that Margo worried he'd smash into someone. Villagers leaped aside.

Thomas slowed immediately inside the transport, gliding to a stop. As he stared from person to person, his expression grew more pinched.

"Where's Cherise?" he demanded.

Margo wanted to kick herself for failing to notice her missing sister. Cherise ought to be one of her top priorities. Only a mind reader could tell what was going on inside Cherise's mind, since she was so silent and expressionless, but she never went within Thomas's range anymore, or vice versa.

The two of them were usually as far apart as they could manage. She was probably in the village.

"I'll go look for her." Margo stepped out onto the ramp.

"We don't have time for this." Thomas made a growl of frustration. "Get out of my way. My chair is faster than ..." He trailed off, eyes widening as he stared at the jungle pathway.

A massive group of villagers jogged towards the transport. Cherise jogged in their midst, like a tall ummin, fitted with a supply pack just like theirs. Everyone in the group was outfitted like the departure crew, and Margo recognized them as backup crew members. Some were backups of backups.

These were all the ummins whom Thomas had insisted couldn't fit inside the transport.

"Go!" Cherise urged them, skidding to a halt. She waved for the outfitted villagers to go up the ramp ahead of her. "He'll let you on. Just keep going!"

The villagers dashed madly up the ramp.

Margo stepped aside with a mixture of fierce pride for her sister and shame for herself. Cherise hadn't let anyone stop her from doing the right thing. She wasn't going to let Duin haunt her. While the rest of them were caught up in logistics, Cherise had made a different sort of calculation, to save as many people as possible.

"We don't have enough room," Thomas said through clenched teeth.

He looked ready to block the desperate people, or worse, run them over. Margo got ready to push his hoverchair aside. She saw Alex do the same, watching from his extra-tall vantage point.

Thomas floated aside, and allowed the scared-looking villagers to run past him and cram into the vehicle.

"Go, go, go!" Cherise urged.

"You'd better get inside, Alex," Thomas said in a cold, toneless voice, like a Torth giving commands. "If they take your spot, we're not going anywhere."

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