1.3 Opened Secrets

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"Teacher?" an ummin queried.

Thomas forced his rate of breathing to stay in a sleep rhythm. He kept his eyes closed and ignored drool on his cheek. This streamship was designed for one or two Torth passengers, plus a few slaves, not a crowd of hundreds. Sleep—or the pretense of sleep—was his only escape.

Most of the passengers were respectful enough to leave Thomas alone. Their ummin voices blended in a background buzz reminiscent of college auditoriums. It soothed him enough to catch a few hours of real sleep, in between bouts of discomfort caused by his position in the hoverchair, and his atrophied limbs.

"Is he ever going to wake up?"

Thomas sensed Varktezo impatiently studying his face. A few adolescent ummins, especially Varktezo, were overly anxious to learn about the ship's technology. Never mind how irrelevant technology would be on a wilderness planet. Varktezo was actually considering shaking the "Teacher" awake.

"He has slept an overly long time." Kessa sounded fretful, and Thomas saw her worried face through Varktezo's eyes. "Perhaps he is ill. Will you get Alex?"

"Right away!" Varktezo sped towards the far side of the room, where Alex was resting next to Margo, chatting with her.

Thomas stretched and pretended to wake up. Of course his quasi-vacation had to be interrupted.

But once they landed ... Thomas could hardly wait. His vacation would be eternal.

Just two more days.

"Thomas," Alex said, approaching along with Margo and Varktezo. "You've been sleeping a lot. Are you all right?"

"I'm just tired." Thomas's mouth was so dry, his voice was a rasp.

Alex raised his hands in the healing posture, and a sense of glorious relief washed through Thomas. He shivered as his aches and pains subsided. For all he knew, his internal organs were strengthened enough to last an extra month.

"Don't do that." Thomas glared. "I don't want your healing."

"Why?" Margo asked, looking mystified.

"I can take care of myself." Thomas rested his hand on his NAI-12 briefcase.

Her expression of concerned puzzlement deepened.

Thomas offered the best explanation she might buy. "Powers are tied to health, and Alex loses raw power every time he heals someone. He's not getting enough to eat because we're rationing our granola bars. It's idiotic for him to waste his energy on a problem he can't ever fix."

Alex made himself comfortable on the cushioned floor across from Thomas. "This is why we need to have a conversation." He handed Thomas a gourd-canteen. "Will you have some water?"

Thomas sipped, making Alex and everyone else wait. The canteen felt almost empty. He hoped they were being conservative with their supplies.

"Have you ever—" Alex began.

"Yes." Thomas answered his unspoken question. "I've brainwashed people before, but I'm not going to do it to anyone here. Okay? I got peppered with inhibitor. It's still in my system, so you don't need to worry."

Alex looked pained. "Sorry. Could we talk about how you knew so much about—"

Thomas coughed weakly. "How about if we have this conversation another time?"

Alex inwardly searched for counter-suggestions.

Margo came to his rescue. "You'll just keep putting us off," she said to Thomas. "You've been avoiding talking to us."

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