1.7 For the Betrayer

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Alex wished he had a way to jot down notes. "So, if I say olirda, that means 'come'?"

"It means 'please come'," Margo corrected.

He had to remind himself to keep his gaze on Margo's eyes, rather than her lips. Or other parts. She looked so appealing, lying on her side with her head propped in one hand, and her soft skirt knotted over one hip.

"Irda," Pung said in a tone of exaggerated nastiness. "Is demand," he said helpfully in English. He seemed fascinated by Alex's struggle to learn the pidgin language that all slaves were fluent in.

"Okay," Alex said. "Ol means 'please'."

Pung gave him a pained look.

"Well, sort of," Margo said. "It makes things polite. Have you ever studied another language, back on Earth?"

Alex shook his head, ashamed. His mother had never followed up on his homeschooling after sixth grade. Margo must know a lot more than he did, about every academic subject.

"Okay. I want to make a comparison to Asian languages." Margo went on as if his lack of schooling didn't matter. "Some Asian languages use different forms, depending on the age or status of the person you're addressing. The slave tongue has something like that, equivalent to being unfriendly versus friendly."

"Torth say irda," Pung put in. "You say olirda."

"Right," Margo said. "Irda is how people talk to strangers, or people they wish were strangers. But if you're talking to a friend, you'd say olirda."

Alex had so much to learn. Sometimes he envied mind readers. "Got it."

"You're picking up the language really fast," Margo assured him.

"Thanks." Alex supposed he had come a long way after a few practice sessions. Some of the conversations he overheard among the ummins were beginning to make a tiny bit of sense, now.

Margo said a simple sentence. Something about Earth, something about sky. "What did I say?" she asked.

"Earth has a pretty sky?" Alex guessed.

She smiled. "I said Earth has a big sky."

Alex tried to hide his embarrassment. He really ought to know the word people most often used to describe him. He heard it enough.

But Margo looked so innocent, and so nice, he couldn't help but smile back.

She snuggled against Alex every time they slept. It seemed a miracle that she felt relaxed and safe near him. Alex had worked up enough courage to hold her gently—she seemed to like that, when she was sleeping—but he didn't dare touch her otherwise. Nothing was worth the risk of offending her and losing her friendship. He'd watched enough TV to know that women had mysterious limits, and he needed to respect those limits.

Pung said a sentence, something about 'delicious.' He munched on a grassy wafer from their rations. Only ummins seemed to like those things. Now Margo watched Alex, expecting a translation.

"Um. The food is delicious?" Alex guessed.

Pung grinned, chewing with his beak open. "Good!" he said.

Margo laughed. "Not to us. Ugh. I wish we had some eggs, or toast, or something."

"One more day till we get there." Alex lay back and gazed at the stars. He didn't miss the Dovanack mansion, or TV. Not really. But he missed the hot meals his mother used to cook. They'd been aboard the streamship for an equivalent of three days, and he didn't like the overly salted, meager rations.

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