Random fragments of his human childhood sparkled within Torth minds. Watching a cartoon show. Dipping his finger into a cold lake. His memories were being assimilated into the Torth Empire.
The boy formerly known as Thomas was determined to distance himself from those memories, to stop thinking about humans (when in public). At least the Torth didn’t expect him to solve emotional problems. He wouldn’t have to act as anyone’s therapist.
What is therapy?
He examined nearby minds, and realized that the Torth Empire only had a vague understanding of his life on Earth. They’d examined his emotionally-saturated trigger events in order to test him, and flushed away everything else as unimportant background data.
Hmm. The boy formerly known as Thomas considered how to explain therapy to people who hardly felt emotions. Many humans suffer from emotional maladies, and seek treatment for those maladies.
Most of the Torth didn’t fully understand, nor did they care to. Only a few dared to feel mild curiosity about primitive sociology. Ah, they thought.
Other minds joined in. Welcome to civilization,
Their many opinions of him coalesced. Dozens, then hundreds, and then thousands of Torth silently agreed upon a common description for the boy. They greeted him with his new title.
Welcome, YELLOW THOMAS.
A slave lifted the sensory mesh, and Yellow Thomas was free to blink up at the starry night sky. He could taste the slave’s fear. It had six limbs and orange fur, and although it looked similar to another slave he’d known (Gyatch), he reminded himself that its identity was meaningless.
The audience radiated approval. Slaves cannot comprehend Our superior minds.
Slaves (and primitives) cannot be trusted
to make (wise) rational decisions.
They are (therefore) fit only to obey instructions.
Yellow Thomas knew that humans did, indeed, often make poor decisions. By watching his entire life from the point of view of an emotionless outsider, he had seen humans for what they must truly be: Dogs. Cattle. Shallow creatures ruled by their emotions. They formed little packs and herds, and bickered over territory and mating privileges. He had attached far too much importance to their trivial concerns.
You didn’t know any other way, the silent audience assured him. Now you do.
A suggestion blossomed. Change his eyes! Display his rank!
Their thoughts jumped ahead of one another, eager to introduce Yellow Thomas to civilization. All Torth begin adulthood as Yellow Ranks.
If you wish to gain more authority (power),
you must rise to (Brown and Orange) (Green) (or higher).
Apprentice yourself to a mentor
of your desired rank.
Different hues of yellow fanned through their minds: Lemon, gold, tawny, chartreuse. They emphasized that most Torth were satisfied to live and die as Yellows. Few earned a promotion.
He is ambitious, the Upward Governess thought, with her high blue rank obvious to everyone’s perceptions. He won’t be satisfied to remain a Yellow.
Many Torth echoed and shared her opinion, as if showing each other a gemstone to admire. Yellow Thomas has so much potential, they chorused to each other. The Upward Governess is never wrong.
For now, Yellow Thomas decided that he just wanted a meal, and some privacy.
The nearby testers imagined a palatial room, with an enormous bed strewn with pillows, plus attendant slaves that would obey his every command, serving him a feast fit for gods. You now own a private suite, they silently informed him. But first, your eyes shall be changed to signify your rank.
A male Torth descended an aisle, carrying an apparatus that looked like a high-tech surgical instrument. He aimed the contraption at Yellow Thomas’s right eye.
Any human—any slave—would have flinched from an instrument that pried eyelids apart. But information flooded Yellow Thomas from the nearby testers, and within seconds, he had experienced memories of ninety-six different Promotion Ceremonies. He knew it would be painless. He already had artificial lenses grafted to his eyeballs; an operation they’d performed on him while he was unconscious and being transported from Earth. The high-tech wand would simply reprogram each lens to display a different color.
First one eye, then the other. It took less than five seconds.
The artificial sky brightened to a golden dawn. Yellow Thomas raised his newly yellow gaze. Even as he admired the flawless sky, he also saw himself reflected in dozens of nearby perceptions. He still wore rumpled, primitive clothing. He still sat in an anachronistic wheelchair. But his new iridescent yellow eyes made him look unnaturally pallid and unearthly.
Raise him up!
Let Us see him!
The testers made command gestures, and the slave obeyed, lifting Yellow Thomas with four of its hands. He suppressed his annoyance. He was used to being lifted and dressed and bathed like an invalid, but he preferred to have some control over those activities.
Raised up, he could see the Swift Killer on the far side of the atrium. Her crossed arms made her seem somewhat human. Other Torth did not cross their arms or make facial expressions. The Swift Killer, with her frowns, was an anomaly among Torth. She was probably suspicious of Yellow Thomas. She’d surely expected him to fail the Adulthood Exam.
Ignore the Swift Killer (and other doubters), the nearby testers urged him.
Their opinion is the minority opinion.
We (the Majority) trust you.
Now, come Join Us in the Megacosm.
Ascend (and be with Us)!
The Upward Governess floated down the aisle towards him, making a silent offer. I will show him how to ascend. Unspoken speculations followed in her wake. Nobody expected an Indigo Rank to waste her valuable time on something so trivial. Anyone could enlighten the former savage in their midst. Every mind reader in the universe knew how to ascend, except for Yellow Thomas.
She entered his telepathic range. First, she thought, some preparation.
Yellow Thomas had to suppress a gasp of shock. She crashed into his awareness like an ocean, obliterating everything else. Her mind seemed to crackle with as much energy as the sun. In a mere instant, she inundated him with Torth laws and significant history. She taught him how to drive a hovercart, how to pilot a (transport) flying vehicle, and the rudiments of how to operate data tablets and multi-purpose blaster gloves. And by the way, she governed the local province, with a population comparable to Japan.
All of the other Torth minds seemed tiny in comparison to hers. They were like mosquitoes swarming around a mountain, unable to absorb a fraction of the data that radiated from her.
Because they could forget.
You’re like Me, Yellow Thomas realized, trying to study her colossal mind. You have a flawless, limitless memory.
Correct, the Upward Governess affirmed. We have both inherited a rare beneficial-detrimental mutation. It allows Us to imbibe and retain more knowledge than any other living being in the known universe. We are super-geniuses.
Other Torth implied that the super-genius mutation was fatal. All super-geniuses suffered from severe neuromuscular disabilities, and never lived beyond puberty.
They weren’t allowed to. Research into a cure was forbidden.
You (Yellow Thomas) unwittingly circumvented the law and invented a potential cure, the Upward Governess thought with approval. One of her thick arms hugged the NAI-12 case, like a girl with a stuffed animal.
Why is it illegal to cure super-geniuses? he silently asked, looking from one expressionless face to the next.
Torth exchanged glances. What a strange question. They’d all grown up knowing certain things. He simply does not know, they whispered to each other. How unusual.
Silent answers piled atop each other, enlightening him. We (the glorious Torth Empire) had a bioengineering mishap,
in Our early beginnings.
Images of misshapen mutants spun from their minds. Not just mutants . . . but giants and people with godlike powers. A glowing woman whipped lightning bolts from her hands. Men and women flew like superheroes. They commanded tornadoes, oceans, tectonic plates, and armies. They ruined continents. Planets. Interstellar empires.
The Torth Empire had arisen from the ashes of a devastating galactic war against bioengineered mutants. The ancient memories felt stale, lacking detail, passed down from generation to generation. It had happened millenniums ago.
Such a catastrophic war must never happen again.
We (the Torth Empire) forbid excess mental powers.
We forbid the science that leads to excess mental powers.
Yellow Thomas studied the nearby Torth around him. Surely they wouldn’t let some long-ago turmoil prevent them from living disease-free. How could they dismiss such an important branch of medical science?
We continue to pay a price for tampering with genetics, nearby Torth informed him.
38.75% of adult Torth are born free from physical ailments,
thanks to pedigree charts and strict baby farm regulations.
But most Torth are born with mutations.
We are grateful to own an endless supply of painkillers.
Yellow Thomas tried to delve further into their rationale, their motives, but all he got were surface thoughts. He was still an outsider. He could only make guesses about the details of their history with genetic science. Maybe they were all incurious, or apathetic.
Or stupid. That came from the Upward Governess.
Other minds crackled in disapproval. Only from Your perspective, super-genius.
Very few Torth (less than 0.00000005%)
suffer from a fatal disability.
Why should We risk the security (safety) of the known universe
just to cure a few super-geniuses?
Yellow Thomas tried to hide his dismay. No wonder the Upward Governess had taken risks to welcome him. She must be have been the lone super-genius among Torth, until he showed up.
You are not the only two super-geniuses. There are others. Torth relayed images of disabled children living on distant planets. A small girl with curly hair in pigtails. A chubby, dark-skinned boy. A pasty-white girl with a bulbous nose. Younger ones, toddlers. Seventeen super-geniuses currently lived in the Torth Empire.
Yellow Thomas did a quick calculation in his mind. Seventeen super-geniuses, all afflicted with fatal neuromuscular diseases, represented less than 0.00000005% of the total Torth population, which extrapolated to . . . He double-checked his math. The Torth population couldn’t be that staggeringly enormous.
38.2 trillion individuals (and growing), the Upward Governess informed him.
Yellow Thomas tried to mute his disgusted awe. Did they mass-reproduce like swarms of bugs?
Other minds chimed in. Every donor produces an average of fifty viable offspring.
Our swiftly growing population allows Us to colonize more planets.
We always expand Our boundaries.
The Upward Governess nudged his mind in a manner that felt like “up.” She silently encouraged him to reach for anyone—any mind—who might reach back.
How many times had he tried this on Earth, yearning to find other telepaths? He had reached blindly for others, but it never mattered how hard he tried. He was always alone inside his head.
But now, this time . . .
They were reaching for him, the same way he reached for them. They knew he existed. They wanted him, and that made all the difference. In a sudden chilling rush, Yellow Thomas sensed very distant minds. He glimpsed exotic places through the eyes of other people. A dozen others. A hundred. A thousand.
Double that. Quintuple that, and on and on. A million Torth connected to his mind. Outward he swept . . . out and out and out . . . far past the boundaries of his previous life, to distant and fantastic places. The Torth Empire was much larger than a single city. The Empire was everywhere. They owned more than four hundred million planets. Not even his capable mind could encompass it. The network of knowledge was so staggeringly huge, he couldn’t understand how he’d never seen it before! It was like living on a mountain all of one’s life and never once looking up to see the all-powerful sun! He was seeing everything in existence! He was hearing a trillion melodies! The power and size of the Empire was beyond imagination!
His eyes bulged, and he gasped for air in between the racing currents of information. He gripped his wheelchair’s armrests until his knuckles went white.
All of this (Mine)? It was the only coherent thought he could manage.
Ours, the Upward Governess corrected. She seemed amused.
How could I not see it before? he marveled. Facts and images and lives tore through his mind, filtered and sorted the instant they entered, in a deluge that made everything before it look like a faucet leak. He lived through a dozen Torth lives, a hundred, ten thousand, two million, and on and on until he felt as though his brain would melt. He saw the aftermath of a volcanic eruption on Tuthwa, Araya’s second largest moon, seventy thousand light years away. He admired the latest fashion trend set by Kemkorcan colonists. He watched a colorful solar eclipse on Jev Rattad, an ancient agricultural planet, through the eyes of one of its colonists. He rode with an interstellar survey crew as they drew near an icy planet orbiting a gas giant. He witnessed a supernova through an explorer who’d died in it, sending the image on to other Torth even as she was vaporized. He understood the exact range and limits of orbital stations, and how ionic polymer tungsten-carbide spaceship hulls withstood the radiation of solar flares. He understood the genetic mutations that afflicted the Empire, and knew what medicine each one required. Experiences washed through him, faster and faster, depositing their information in his mind and sending him hurtling towards the next new thing.
During the Adulthood Exam, he hadn’t so much as flickered an eyelid, and now he felt as though he might shriek from awe.
This is God, the old, obsolete part of him whispered. I am seeing God.
You ought to withdraw now, the Upward Governess silently suggested. Her gigantic mind seemed less impressive here. She was like a whale cruising through the endless Megacosm. It may be too much (too overwhelming) for your first time.
But there was still more, and more, and more! Individuals danced in and out of the background of his mind, all commenting on everything he saw and heard and smelled and felt. Their collective wisdom piled up and enhanced every experience.
The Megacosm will (still) (always) exist, the Upward Governess thought, bulking into his immediate awareness. Drop down so We can have a coherent conversation.
Reluctant, Yellow Thomas slid back into his solo self. It felt like dropping out of the heavens. Oh, but he was not the same person he had been. The old version, Thomas Hill, had been severely limited.
Five seconds in the Megacosm had augmented his knowledge a thousand-fold. Just five seconds.
His ordinary range of telepathy now felt like a straight-jacket. He had been missing out on the wonders of the galaxy all his life, something that all Torth were immersed in from infancy until death. That was a handicap more severe than a neuromuscular disease. Distance meant nothing in the Megacosm. A Torth could stroll through a garden while chatting with colleagues on the far side of the galaxy, while the light from their local suns required over a hundred thousand years to reach each other.
Correct, the Upward Governess sent. Since you grew up apart from other mind readers, you only knew the low form of telepathy. The Megacosm is the high form.
Her mind seemed monstrous and inscrutable once more, but only because he had down-shifted. He was a level below the Megacosm while she continued to swim in it.
So it was with all the Torth. They had never hidden their thoughts from him. They simply existed on a higher plane, sharing their real-time perceptions and knowledge with Torth on distant worlds while simultaneously dealing with him.
You understand, the Upward Governess sent.
He did. The Megacosm was what made him a god. The slaves, the luxuries . . . ? Those were just perks.
That wonderfully busy plane of existence hovered just above his mind, calling to him, inviting him to come back, warming him like sunlight on his skin. Its presence was a comfort such as he’d never known.