4.6 To See Again

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Sound returned to Thomas as the wrap unwound itself from his ears. Distant murmurs and horrified whispers. Rustles. Coughs. 

A vast audience, upwards of ten thousand people.

It was not the glorious immersion of the Megacosm, but it was a great improvement over the dripping silence of the pit. His unknown jailers had brought him someplace new. Thomas remained blindfolded, gagged, and in chains, but now, instead of sitting in slimy filth, he lay on burlap.

He heard flames. Bonfires and torches in lieu of artificial lighting? Evidence indicated that his jailers were low-tech.

Fear laced their breathing, their whispers, their voices. For the first time in his imprisonment, Thomas heard his jailers.

Their version of the slave tongue had a mushy, foreign cadence. When they spoke whatever their native language was, Thomas did not recognize a single word. Whoever they were, these people were unknown to the Torth Empire.

It was easy enough to put two and two together. Thomas had long suspected that a free population of runaways must exist on the Torth Homeworld. Otherwise Jonathan Stead could not have hidden in the dead city for as long as he had. Sure enough, this unseen audience included wet snorts from nussians, and beak clicks, as well. They had ummins and mer nerctans among them.

An unseen force propped Thomas against the bars of his cage. Another force held his head upright. The gag loosened, then unraveled away from his dry, thirsty mouth.

"Can you hear me, rekveh?"

The female voice was unfamiliar to Thomas, marked by that mushy accent. She sounded like an orator.

"Prisoner," she said. "Answer me. Do you have a name?"

At last.

Thomas worked moisture into his mouth, aware that he needed to act meek and cooperative, until he could get within telepathy range of an enemy. His jailers might be deficient in technology, but they had retained their freedom in the Torth-ruled galaxy for centuries or even millenniums. They must be Yeresunsa. It was the only plausible explanation for their power.

"My name is Thomas." His voice was a weak rasp.

"All right," the orator-jailer said. "We have questions for you, Thomas." She made his name sound like a joke. "Answer to our satisfaction, and we shall remove your blindfold. Perhaps you will be allowed you to rejoin your friends. Is this understood?"

Thomas thought it was prudent to learn as much as possible about his jailers while revealing as little as possible about himself. So he said, "Sure," in a toneless way, hiding his desperation and eagerness for freedom. 

Suppressing his emotions was easy. He had done it often enough, as a Torth.

"If we catch you in a lie," the orator-jailer said in a more aggressive tone, "then you cannot expect freedom."

"Ask your questions," Thomas invited without emotion.

The vast audience quieted. They sounded more fearful than ever, and the orator-jailer hesitated, perhaps put off by his emotionless demeanor. Thomas began to reevaluate his strategy.

Then he heard Alex's deep voice, resonant in the vast space. "Thomas? If you need healing right now, just say so."

Alex sounded defiant, as if daring the jailers to attack. But the fact that he had spoken to Thomas in the slave tongue—fluently!—meant that he was purposely forthright with the jailers. He had some kind of rapport with them. He trusted them to some degree, and since they did not silence him, they trusted him as well. Therefore, a fight would not be in his best interest.

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