Yellow Thomas cautiously ascended into the Megacosm again, wondering if he could learn the layout of this city.
The instant that thought crossed his mind, hundreds of blueprints compiled inside his head. He had somehow attracted orbiters—minds that orbited his, curious about his experiences—and those orbiters reacted to his unspoken query by asking their own orbiters, who then queried others, until answers were found and shared and re-shared.
Within seconds, Yellow Thomas learned all sorts of facts about New GoodLife WaterGarden City. He became familiar with every spire, every garden, every indoor boulevard. He knew the construction sites. He learned every inch of the labyrinthine slave quarters, including ventilation ducts and garbage chutes. The layouts fit together with admirable efficiency.
Our greatest living engineer designed the new construction, multitudes chorused.
This is a remade city,
architected by the Upward Governess.
Torth would not make jokes.
Yellow Thomas stared at the girl, who looked like she was only thirteen or fourteen years old. She twitched her fingers in a beckoning symbol for food.
Indeed, she confirmed, sensing his disbelief. I began my architectural overhaul five years ago (translated to an Earth time scale).
She shared a few select personal memories. It was true. She had pioneered more efficient ways of designing pipes and ducts, and her reconceptualization of outdated systems had led to the re-blossoming of an ancient city. Now slaves labored to build new skyscrapers, to accommodate a fast-growing local population of Torth.
You are the greatest living engineer? Yellow Thomas marveled at that.
On Earth, nobody who looked like her could have gained enough authority to make monumental things happen. On Earth, people would have prejudged her because she was obese, and also because she was an adolescent. She would have had to prove herself capable again and again and again before anyone took her seriously.
Is that so? The Upward Governess seemed interested. Are all humans so judgmental?
Yellow Thomas was distracted by a troupe of slaves who came into the atrium, bearing platters of food. The smells were enticing, and his stomach growled. A nearby slave looked startled by the noise.
Hunger is uncouth (rude) (slave-like), the Upward Governess informed him primly. You need to stop feeling it. She pointed to a platter for herself.
Yellow Thomas selected a stew. His mouth watered.
Ease into the Megacosm while you eat, the Upward Governess suggested. You will experience something new.
A slave spooned stew into Yellow Thomas’s watering mouth, and while he ate, he ascended.
Echoes of the delicious taste flooded him from a thousand firsthand sources.
This stew had originally developed on the planet Yoft, by early colonists. It was seasoned with fresh herbs from one of the Upward Governess’s private gardens. He learned every ingredient, from harvest to cooking, its nutritional value, and its popularity.
An ever-shifting population of orbiters shared his taste journey with him, and this was remarkably more exquisite than tasting it alone. Every individual experienced taste differently. The Megacosm provided a grand composite.
Every spoonful was like learning a dazzlingly new sensation.
In a dim part of his mind, Yellow Thomas realized that he had just suffered the most grueling ordeal of his life. He ought to be shaking from relief and exhaustion. Instead, he felt … well, blissful.
You’re on painkillers, many Torth informed him as soon as he wondered why. They brought his attention to the golden cuff around his ankle.
A medical patch, distant minds sang without words.
It keeps you free from harmful bacteria and viruses.
A longevity mixture slows your aging process.
And you will not feel minor aches or pains.
Medicine was freely distributed to all Torth, and it was powerful enough to double a lifespan. Everything was free to Torth.
Yellow Thomas gazed longingly at his NAI-12 medicine case. Cherise (no) (slaves don’t matter) (don’t think of her) had drawn metallic phoenix birds on the lid. Not that Torth cared about human artwork.
Super-geniuses seem to be highly valued, Yellow Thomas thought. So why not give Us the best medical benefits? I don’t understand.
The Upward Governess gestured for a berry slurpy. The Majority doesn’t want Us to live to adulthood.
Yellow Thomas sensed several other huge minds in the Megacosm, agreeing with her. Other super-geniuses.
They were curious about him. And they emitted bitter envy of the Upward Governess, since none of them ranked high enough to claim even a portion of the medicine. Once the Upward Governess used up the limited supply of NAI-12, it would be gone forever. No one was allowed to duplicate it, or manufacture more.
Yellow Thomas began to press the issue, wondering why the Majority was so short-sighted, but he sensed a very subtle warning from the Upward Governess. Her mind sharpened for a nanosecond. That sharpening was so brief, only a quick-minded super-genius would have detected it.
She slurped on her berry drink as if nothing was amiss.
All right. Yellow Thomas decided to drop the matter, for now. His mind returned to the golden cuff fastened around his ankle. He hadn’t seen any other Torth wearing such a cuff.
Dangerous among Us.
Later (someone else will tell him).
Uneasy minds fluttered away from his inquiries about the cuff. It contained an additive; something no one wanted to discuss.
When Yellow Thomas tried to follow threads about the additive, the minds he followed lost themselves in distant currents of knowledge. He only caught a few answers.
Inhibitor serum. That was how the Torth thought of it.
(he is inhibited)
Because certain mutations were too dangerous.
No one wanted to explain more. Not the Servants of All, not the children on baby farms. Yellow Thomas only got a whisper of a remembered word; a remnant from an extinct language.
That word carried connotations of power. Lightning bolts. Tornados. Earthquakes.
Yellow Thomas nearly choked on his last bite of stew.
There was a certain awful power which he had used when he was six years old. He would never use it again. Bile rose in his throat as he remembered a corpse caked with makeup and mud, pressed next to him in the passenger seat of a pickup truck.
He hurled the memory away, hoping it would never resurface. That scared and miserable foster kid was no longer him. He had nothing to do with that child.
The Upward Governess studied him as she finished off the platter of sausages. You buried that particular trauma well, during your Adulthood Exam, she thought with a hint of admiration. Very few people can hide knowledge from testers. Or from Me. Your mind is undernourished in comparison to that of other super-geniuses, but even so, you nearly buried that tidbit beneath irrelevancies and distractions. Well done! She sipped from her berry beverage. I anticipate that I will enjoy conversing with you, with your surprises. I relish surprises.
Yellow Thomas focused on tasting his stew. He didn’t feel proud. He needed to stick to pleasurable perceptions and facts, and avoid anything that might trigger an illegal emotion.
He had inhibited powers.
Was he the only one? Did other Torth have such (evil) (disturbing) (illegal) powers?
His orbiters fed him answers. Teams of pediatric scientists—
—weed out Yeresunsa—
—on baby farms.
Yeresunsa should not exist.
Powers are illegal.
Ah. Yellow Thomas was a freak who had avoided baby farm regulation, so here he was, born with illegal powers.
And instead of executing him, the Torth Majority had voted to embrace him. Why?
We have never allowed a Yeresunsa
to live (freely) until now.
You are the first.
Someone must have persuaded the Torth Majority to allow a Yeresunsa to live among them for the first time in history. Yellow Thomas studied the Upward Governess.
I may have had some influence there, the Upward Governess admitted with casual ambivalence. She gestured for a platter of buttery muffins.
Millions of Torth sent Yellow Thomas an image of the cuff he wore. NEVER REMOVE IT.
He is not an imbecile, the Upward Governess thought.
His orbiters went on, flashing dire warnings. If you remove it,
then We (the Torth Majority)
will have you executed,
alongside the Giant.
Yellow Thomas closed his mouth, the heavenly tastes now like dirt on his tongue. Ariock (no, names don’t matter) the gigantic hybrid was slated for execution. Did he also have illegal powers?
Yes. The Upward Governess handed the reply to Yellow Thomas without qualms or fanfare. The Giant is small-minded and mostly human, but he has enough Torth DNA to be dangerous. She pictured a snug collar around the Giant’s neck; the equivalent of Thomas’s ankle cuff. He did inherit illegal powers. His collar acts as an inhibitor patch.
HE IS DANGEROUS! the orbiters around Yellow Thomas’s mind emphasized.
Tests prove that he is a powerful Yeresunsa, the Upward Governess went on. The Majority has deemed him too dangerous to live, even with the inhibitor.
HE MUST DIE! his orbiters chorused.
The Upward Governess chowed down on muffins, uncaring about the future execution of an innocent man.
Yellow Thomas stared. Ariock (no, his name is irrelevant) the Giant had never harmed anyone in his life. Any mind reader should know that.
I happen to agree, the Upward Governess thought. The inhibitor is sufficient to render even the most powerful Yeresunsa harmless. We (Torth) could use the Giant for slave labor instead of for entertainment. He would be useful on a construction crew. She sighed. But most Torth are uninterested in progressive change. It was a struggle to get the Majority to accept you.
Millions of Torth flooded into the conversation from locations all over the galaxy. The Giant is violent!
They replayed a recent news feed: The Giant fought a troop of nussian prison guards. He had actually snapped a spike off one guard.
Dangerous! many Torth chorused.
Yellow Thomas guessed that (Ariock) the giant hybrid had been scared, acting in self-defense. Surely he would cooperate with anything the Torth wanted? He wore an inhibitor collar. He didn’t even know that he had powers. Couldn’t they use him for slave labor, as the Upward Governess suggested?
Why hurt him? Why kill him? It seemed monstrously unfair.
HE MUST BE EXECUTED.
Even more millions of Torth tuned in. Their collective condemnation felt like a tsunami.
The collar might break, or fail.
If the Giant tapped into his power,
even by accident,
even for a few minutes,
a guarded prison cell would not be enough.
An army would not be enough.
HE MUST DIE!
All around Yellow Thomas, Torth feasted, uncaring about the condemned prisoner from Earth. To them, the Giant was a wildcard; a dangerously powerful monster.
And a tourist attraction.
Tourists were visiting New GoodLife WaterGarden City from all over the galaxy, eager to witness the monster perform fights in a prison arena. Tourists and locals would vie to be selected as firsthand witnesses to his final death.
A frustrated feeling welled up inside Yellow Thomas.
He forced himself to focus on mundane things, to calm down. But why did the Torth Majority want to force the Giant into a gladiatorial arena? Wasn’t that irrational? If Torth eschewed intense emotions, then why did they have arenas? Why torture anyone?
We derive no joy from torture, many Torth assured Yellow Thomas.
We do not cheer or applaud, like primitives.
But a quick death is insufficient—
—to symbolize the vanquishing of a monster.
Experts will break his mind and body,
to make this event a memorable spectacle,
so that memories of it—
—will gain wider distribution,
and be better preserved.
A Majority of interested Torth—51.89%—had voted in favor of making the Giant’s death a spectacle.
The Majority are often idiotic. The Upward Governess ate a muffin. Personally, I find torture tedious (boring). But I am in the minority on this issue, just like you, little Yellow. We are outvoted.
Yellow Thomas lost his appetite.
He understood that plenty of Torth wanted the Giant executed right away, without fanfare. But in the Torth Empire, the Majority ruled.
That same Majority had voted to make Yellow Thomas a Torth citizen … by some margin of votes.
He didn’t want to know what percentage of the galactic Torth population had voted to give him the chance to survive, but his orbiters carried the information to him anyway. 50.43%.
There must be more than a few bitter losers who wanted him dead. He thought of his biological aunt, the Swift Killer.
You are safe, the Upward Governess and millions of orbiters assured him. Everyone must obey the Majority.
Disobedience meant execution.
Yellow Thomas shook his head at a slave who was offering to serve him a crêpe. He yearned for a bath. He smelled awful, and he no longer wanted to think (in public). He wanted to be alone for a while.
Alone? his orbiters wondered. What does that mean?
Do you wish for a privacy break?
Yellow Thomas supposed that was what he wanted. Was there a bedroom he could use? He would be grateful to catch up on sleep.
As a Yellow Rank, you own a personal suite. Local orbiters pictured a palatial bedroom, where attendant slaves would obey his every command. Pillows strewed the enormous bed.
Yellow Thomas learned the location of his new residence. But before he could inquire about someone to push his battery-drained wheelchair, the Upward Governess signaled for his attention.
Wait. She waggled her fingers in a command gesture at one of her personal slaves. I have a welcome gift to give you, Yellow Thomas.
Yellow Thomas tried to minimize his (?) anticipation. All he really wanted was (his friends) his NAI-12 medicine.
Her slave left and then returned, pushing an empty hoverchair. Yellow Thomas peered at the vehicle through the eyes of other Torth. Unlike most hoverchairs, this one was fit for his size. It was ergonomically adapted for his bent spine and atrophied limbs.
It was fancy, too. Starbursts embossed its sleek metallic curves.
A high value (rare) (precious) gift, many Torth silently chorused.
Engineered by Our top (eldest) super-genius.
She (the Upward Governess) must truly see a lot of potential in Yellow Thomas.
This is really more than a typical Yellow Rank (deserves) gets.
The Upward Governess gestured for a hulking bodyguard, one of the thorny nussians, to transfer Yellow Thomas to his new hoverchair.
It was comfortable.
Better than comfortable. Yellow Thomas usually needed hours to adjust to a new chair, but this one adjusted to his malformed body. A toggle button caused the hoverchair to float higher or lower.
Thank You. Yellow Thomas sent the Upward Governess his gratitude.
She emanated approval, but she gently educated him. “Thank you”, “please,” and other platitudes are pointless slave concepts. She beckoned for another platter of pastries.
Yellow Thomas explored the control panel, wondering how long the chair’s battery would last. He was curious to learn how levitation worked. Did the hoverchair use an anti-gravity principle?
Physicists and electromagnetic engineers explored his mind, eager to share their expertise with a fledging super-genius. They inundated Yellow Thomas with illustrations of the gyroscopic magnet disk that caused his hoverchair to levitate. A flexible metamaterial encased the magnet, augmenting its repellent behavior against the planet’s magnetic field.
Fascinating. Yellow Thomas settled into his new seat.
When he expressed curiosity about his benefactor, thousands of Torth chorused that the Upward Governess was truly amazing. They silently sang that she was exceptional even for a super-genius.
Like all Torth, the Upward Governess had been born on a baby farm. Babies held no rank or status. But even as a toddler, she had aced every mental acuity test given to her, and she consistently solved adult-level problems. At an age that was equivalent to six Earth years, she had engineered a new material that revolutionized orbital docking stations.
Since she was born with the fatal super-genius mutation, her estimated lifespan was greatly reduced. The Majority had voted to offer her the Adulthood Exam at an extremely early age. She passed it and became an adult citizen well before puberty.
Most adult citizens remained Yellow Rank all their lives. The Upward Governess had achieved Green Rank by the age of seven, having designed an unconventional yet very successful air traffic rotation. Next, she had pioneered the use of a synthetic polymer that would improve the structural integrity of stone buildings. That impressed high ranks, including Servants of All, and earned her a promotion to Turquoise Blue, a huge leap up.
At an age equivalent to nine and a half years old, she had planned an upgrade to this metropolis, including accurate projections of population growth. Her techniques were successes, and had become standard for new construction in arid regions. She had even made improvements to reinforced sandstone. She currently held the highest rank possible for an engineer: Indigo Blue. Only Servants of All had higher status. This city and province were hers to govern.
And she was a popular governess. Local Torth were proud to dwell in a city with near-perfect infrastructure.
Yellow Thomas studied her as she ate a sweet roll. Why had the Majority sent him to this particular city, governed by the eldest super-genius in the Torth Empire? Why here, and not one of the other billions of urban areas throughout the galaxy?
I requested you. The Upward Governess seemed vaguely amused by how little he understood. Many scientists (the brightest minds) requested you. When We (the Torth Empire) learned of your existence a couple of weeks ago, everyone was impressed by your ability to engineer a neuronal apoptosis inhibitor using only primitive resources. She turned her head, allowing a slave to blot crumbs off her mouth with a linen napkin. I am pleased that My request won out over all the others.
Yellow Thomas was beginning to suspect that she had ordered something akin to a banquet—and he was on the menu. Her web of influence might extend beyond the scope of her rank.
Well, he thought, I am honored to be here. He yawned. Will You excuse Me? I wish to retire to My bedroom suite.
He began to float away.
In her mind, she extended an offer, like a queen offering a jeweled gift to a peasant. Would you like Me to escort you to your new suite?
Yellow Thomas did not need an escort. He already knew the way due to the maps in his head. He nearly refused.
Yet other Torth marveled at the generous offer. It was such a great honor!
And Yellow Thomas sensed a brief hint in the depths of the Upward Governess’s overly complicated thoughts, encoded beneath so much trivia that no one else could have picked up on it. A reminder. She had saved his life.
There was a subtext implied there. She expected accommodation. She expected Yellow Thomas to agree to anything she requested, because he owed her. He owed her a lot.
He shoved down his worries about why she wanted to lavish him with attention. Maybe she was just being friendly?
Although Torth did not have friends.
Sure. Yellow Thomas swallowed his anxiety, and tried to feel honored. I respectfully accept Your company.