Yellow Thomas smelled terrible, and he longed for a bath, but the Upward Governess blocked his way to the exit. May I leave? he thought.
I would be pleased if you dine with Me, she thought. I have a gift for you, which I designed. She wagged her fingers in a command gesture.
An alien slave came forward, pushing an empty hoverchair. Embossed starbursts overlapped along its sleek curves. This chair was fit for his size, more ergonomic than most of the chairs and vehicles he’d seen. Yellow Thomas sent her a formal acknowledgement of gratitude. He hadn’t expected a gift, and it pleased him.
A high value (rare) (precious) gift, nearby Torth silently chorused.
More than a Yellow Rank deserves.
A uniquely designed hoverchair.
The Upward Governess gestured for a hulking bodyguard, one of the thorny nussians, to transfer Yellow Thomas to his new hoverchair.
You are already learning to stop using platitudes, she thought with approval, while slaves adjusted cushions and prepared his new hoverchair. “Please” and “thank you” are pointless slave concepts.
Ah. Yellow Thomas settled into his new seat. He 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.
He cautiously ascended into the Megacosm again, curious to learn how levitation was possible.
Thousands of Torth explored his mind, eager to fill him in. They inundated him with images of the gyroscopic magnet that supported his hoverchair. A flexible metamaterial encased the magnet, focusing the planet’s magnetic field.
You can leap into the minds of the foremost experts on hover technology whenever you wish, the Upward Governess thought. But your hunger is uncouth (slave-like).
A troupe of slaves came forth, bearing platters of food. Thomas’s stomach growled, and some slaves looked startled at the noise.
You ought to ease into using the Megacosm, the Upward Governess suggested. She accepted a platter of something that looked like sausages, and bit into a juicy meat roll. Have you learned the layout of My city yet?
Yellow Thomas wondered if he could find a map inside the Megacosm. As soon as he wondered about it, millions of blueprints compiled in his head. Within seconds, he knew every part of the city: every spire, every garden, every indoor street, every construction site, every inch of the labyrinthine slave quarters, even the ventilation ducts and garbage chutes. Every inch of the place fit together with intricate efficiency.
Our greatest engineer designed all of it, multitudes of minds chorused.
Torth would not make jokes, but surely they couldn’t be referring to the Upward Governess. She looked like she was barely thirteen or fourteen years old.
I had this city constructed five years ago. She sent a memory of slaves laboring to build stone skyscrapers.
Yellow Thomas stared as she chowed down on sausages. Other Torth filled him in, implying that the individual known as the Upward Governess was exceptional even for a super-genius.
Like all Torth, she had been born without rank or status and reared on a baby farm. At an age equivalent to six Earth years, she’d engineered a new metamaterial that revolutionized orbital docking stations. Due to the fact that she suffered from a fatal mutation, her estimated lifespan was greatly reduced, but since she had a lot of potential to improve the Torth Empire, the Majority voted to offer her the Adulthood Exam at an extremely young age. She passed it and became an adult citizen well before puberty.
Most adult citizens remained Yellow Rank all their lives. But the Upward Governess was on an upward trajectory, and she achieved Green Rank by designing unconventional air traffic routes that proved successful. Next, she 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, a huge leap up.
Roughly five years ago, at an age equivalent to eight years old, she’d planned a metropolis with an accurate projection of its population growth. Her techniques all proved to be successes, and were currently standardized for desert colonies. She’d made improvements to structural engineering with reinforced sandstone, and she currently held the highest rank possible for an engineer: Indigo. Only Servants of All had higher status. This city and province were hers to govern.
You are upwardly mobile, like Me, the Upward Governess thought to Yellow Thomas, signaling for another platter of food. When We (the Torth Empire) learned of your existence a couple of weeks ago, I was impressed, and I wasn’t the only one. Many scientists (the brightest minds among Us) requested your presence, due to your ability to engineer a neuronal apoptosis inhibitor using only primitive tools. She wolfed down a vegetable patty. I am pleased that My request won out over all the others.
Yellow Thomas couldn’t help but gaze longingly at the medicine case tucked next to her. Cherise (no) (slaves don’t matter) (don’t think of her) had drawn metallic phoenix birds on the lid, and added artsy stickers from music bands. Torth didn’t care about things like music or mythology.
Invention of this medicine is illegal. An astringent note spun through the hyper-active mind of the Upward Governess. We (super-geniuses) are not allowed to research genetic science. We are not permitted to cure Ourselves.
He sensed several other huge minds in the Megacosm, assessing him. Super-geniuses. None ranked high enough to vie with the Upward Governess and claim a portion of the NAI-12 medicine, but they wanted it just as much. Once it was used up, it would be gone. They were not allowed to manufacture it or copy it.
I don’t understand the reason for that law, Yellow Thomas thought. Super-geniuses seem to be highly valued. Why not give Us the best medical benefits?
The Upward Governess gestured for a slave to give him a platter of something that smelled like beef stew. The Majority doesn’t want Us to live to adulthood.
Yellow Thomas began to press the issue, to ask why, but he sensed a very subtle warning from the Upward Governess. Her mind sharpened for a nanosecond, so briefly that only a quick-minded super-genius would have detected it. She slurped up a berry drink as if nothing was amiss.
Explore the Megacosm while you eat, she suggested. You will experience something new. She silently urged him to try the stew, seasoned with herbs from one of her private gardens.
Yellow Thomas tasted the stew. While he drifted in the dazzling torrent of information that was the Megacosm, echoes of the delicious taste flooded him from thousands of sources. He was consuming a meal originally developed by early colonists on the world of Yoft. He learned its ingredients, from harvest to cooking, its nutritional value, and its popularity. A shifting population of a few thousand Torth shared his taste journey. This was remarkably more exquisite than tasting it alone. Every individual experienced taste differently, and the Megacosm provided a grand composite. Each new food or beverage was like learning a completely 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 . . . blissful.
You’re on painkillers, many Torth informed him as soon as he wondered why. They brought his attention to a 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 pains.
Medicine was freely distributed to all Torth, and was powerful enough to double a lifespan. Yellow Thomas caught a hint of something else in his medical patch mixture; something that no one wanted to tell him. It contained an additional serum. Something that . . .
(Shh) Shh (Shh).
Dangerous among Us.
Later (someone else will tell him) yes, later.
Uneasy minds fluttered away from his questions. When he tried to follow, they lost themselves in distant currents of knowledge. They couldn’t escape from a super-genius, though. A nanosecond gave Yellow Thomas enough time to grab tidbits.
The inhibitor serum. That was how the Torth thought of it. A necessity. Because certain mutations were just too dangerous.
The Giant—Ariock—was also being dosed with the inhibitor serum. Overdosed, since he was considered extremely dangerous. Monster. That was how the Torth thought of Ariock.
HE MUST BE EXECUTED. Millions more Torth joined the conversation, from locations all over the galaxy.
Yellow Thomas nearly choked on his last bite of stew. Ariock (no, names don’t matter) the Giant had never harmed anyone in his life. Surely he would cooperate with anything the Torth wanted.
He killed a prison guard. Many Torth replayed a memory of the Giant fighting a troop of brawny aliens.
The inhibitor serum isn’t enough.
A guarded prison cell isn’t enough.
An army isn’t enough.
No one wanted to explain why Ariock was so dangerous. 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 put aside his nectar drink, the heavenly taste as gritty as dirt in his mouth. Ariock had illegal powers. It was a rare mutation, held in check by the inhibitor serum . . . and Yellow Thomas was on the inhibitor serum, as well.
There was a certain power that he had used once or twice, when he was six years old. If only he had been inhibited back then. What did a kid in a miserable foster home know of restraint? Bile rose in his throat as he remembered the corpse caked with makeup and mud, pressed next to him in the passenger seat.
He hurled the memory away, hoping it would never resurface. That scared and lonely child was no longer him. He had nothing to do with that child.
The Upward Governess studied him as she finished off a platter of dumplings. You buried that particular trauma well, she thought with a hint of admiration. A super-genius mind is large enough to hide tidbits of knowledge beneath layers of other knowledge, but I doubted you could hide anything from Me. Very few people can. Your mind is lesser (smaller) (undernourished) compared with other super-geniuses your age, and yet you managed to surprise Me. Fascinating. She sipped a frosty beverage. (I anticipate that) I will enjoy conversing to you, with your surprises. I relish surprises.
Yellow Thomas focused on tasting his nectar drink. He needed to stick to perceptions and facts, and avoid anything that might trigger an illegal emotion.
So, he had illegal powers. How could the Torth Empire be okay with that?
Many Torth sent him an image of the anklet he wore, which dispensed the inhibitor serum. NEVER REMOVE IT.
He is not an imbecile, the Upward Governess thought with a hint of disparagement.
His inner audience went on, heedless. If you remove it, then We (the Torth Empire) will have to kill you.
This is a precaution that We (Torth) must take.
We have never allowed a Yeresunsa
to live (freely) before.
You are the first.
Had they made an exception because of his potential as a super-genius? Yellow Thomas studied the Upward Governess. Maybe she had persuaded the Torth Majority to allow a Yeresunsa to live among them for the first time in history.
I may have had some influence there. The Upward Governess gestured for a platter of buttery muffins.
Millions more Torth tuned in. The Giant has no value, they thundered. He is (small-minded) of human ilk. But you—their minds seemed to pinpoint Yellow Thomas with spotlights—you have potential. You are valuable. As long as you take the inhibitor serum, you are harmless. You may rise high as a Torth citizen.
Their collective unease felt like the shrug of a tsunami. Some Torth doubted that he was harmless, but they were the minority vote. The Majority trusted Yellow Thomas.
After all, the Majority thundered, any Yeresunsa can be defeated with the inhibitor serum.
Yeresunsa were the last true threat the Torth Empire ever faced.
Their reign of terror ended thousands of years ago,
when a super-genius (in ancient times) invented the inhibitor serum.
No Yeresunsa army shall ever rise again.
We (the Torth Empire) have no more threats.
Yellow Thomas stuck out his leg, assessing the medical anklet. This rendered him “safe” in society. He met the qualifications to be a Torth, whereas (Ariock) the Giant was discarded as worthless because he could not read minds.
The Giant is a tourist attraction, local Torth let him know.
Millions (of tourists) are visiting
New GoodLife WaterGarden City,
vying to be chosen
as firsthand witnesses
to the torture
of the (Giant) monster.
A frustrated feeling welled up inside Yellow Thomas, and he forced himself to focus on mundane things, to calm down. Surely torture was unnecessary. It seemed utterly irrational, to him. If Torth lacked emotion, why would they torture anyone?
We derive no joy from it, thousands of Torth assured him, answering his thoughts. We agree with you, they decided, their minds intertwining around parts of his. The Giant should be executed right away.
Yellow Thomas nearly choked. He hadn’t meant to suggest immediate (it isn’t murder, it isn’t murder) execution.
A roar of dissent drowned out the Torth who favored instant execution. No! The Giant must be tortured!
Let high ranks break his mind, and the memories be preserved.
A quick death is insufficient to symbolize the vanquishing of a monster.
It was some kind of ancient tradition. The Majority of the Torth Empire—51.89%, to be precise—were in favor of following that tradition. Plenty of Torth disagreed, but in the Torth Empire, the Majority ruled.
The Majority are often (idiotic) irrational. 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 poked at a pastry that a slave had set on a tray across his chair arms. He no longer wanted to think (in public) about what was happening to the humans he had known. He just wanted to be alone for a while.
Distant Torth whispered in his mind. We want to learn about humans.
New Hampshire is so exotic.
Yes (yes) show Us more of your memories.
The Upward Governess sent a ripple of disapproval in the Megacosm, urging them to leave Yellow Thomas alone. He is exhausted. Question him later. She turned her head, allowing a slave to blot her jowls and lips with a napkin. In her mind, she extended an offer to Yellow Thomas, like a queen offering a jewel to a peasant. Would you like Me to escort you to your private suite?
He knew the way due to the maps in his head, so he nearly declined. But he sensed another brief hint in the depths of her 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 several times over. She did not expect him to refuse anything that she offered.
Unaware of that prod, other Torth speculated about why such a high rank would offer her sought-after attention to a mere Yellow Rank. It was such an honor.
I would like that, Yellow Thomas decided. He tried to shove down his worries about why the Upward Governess was lavishing so much attention on him. He tried to assure himself that she was just being friendly.
But he already knew that Torth did not have friends.