Astonishment rolled through the Upward Governess.

Yellow Thomas sensed her sample his offer as if tasting a strange gourmet meal.  She remained expressionless, but her mind reeled.  Leave the Megacosm forever?  That is insane.  Commit crimes against the Torth Empire?  That is suicide.

Yet the idea held a certain tang to her mind.

Curious, she reconsidered his goals, his deep desires, and extrapolated logical results.

Hm.  In her imagination, she transformed Yellow Thomas into a lion.  Just as you should not underestimate Me, I will endeavor not to underestimate you.  We are both more dangerous than any creature in the universe.

He didn’t feel playful.

No, she decided with reluctance.  Your goal, little Yellow, is suicide.  I will not help you die.  She narrowed her eyes at him. You need to help Me live.

Yellow Thomas felt as if she’d aimed a gun at his face.  The threat was hugely obvious.

You understand.  Her mood seethed like a pit of snakes.  My end-goal is not a crime.  I merely yearn for immortality.  The Majority will not execute Me for that, if They ever find out.  Your goals, however, are very much illegal.  You will suffer and die in the Isolatorium for scheming to (massacre Torth) free slaves.

Yellow Thomas bowed his head and admitted to being very vulnerable.

He could not hide or escape.  He could not force her to keep his secret.

But if she wanted any hope of gaining enough medicine to live to adulthood?  Then she absolutely needed his help.

Yes.  Her mood thawed a little bit.  We need each other.  And…  She hesitated, then revealed a buried truth, like a peace offering.  I wish you no harm.  I like your companionship.

Her sincerity was as bright as the iridescent gas bugs darting above the lake.

They regarded each other.  They needed to reconnect with their audiences, but for now, they were alone together.  Their titanic minds overlapped, like one universe colliding with another.

Time is precious to both of Us, the Upward Governess thought.  If you waste it on futile plans, then We are both doomed.  Why not work towards something achievable?  Why not earn a promotion to Green Rank?  An ache filled her mind, like ice creeping across a lake.  What is holding you back?  Don’t you want to live?

Yellow Thomas chewed his lower lip, pensive.

Of course he wanted to live.  He would keep struggling to survive, to rise in rank, to further the Torth Empire, so he could…

Struggle endlessly?

Feel dead inside?

He trailed his finger in the cold water, distorting his golden image.  You’re right about My plan.  It’s futile.  But so is Yours.  His withered reflection gazed at him from the lake, ephemeral.  Fleeting.  Our goals are sandcastles.  The Torth Majority will erode whatever progress We manage to make.  We are doomed, no matter what. 

He could not protect humankind from the Torth Empire.  He fully understood that.  The Empire owned everything in the galaxy.

And she could not persuade the Majority that she needed to live to adulthood.  The Majority would never be stupid enough to grant that particular request.

So why bother to keep breathing?  What was the point of existence?  Everyone was going to die eventually, anyway.

A dark feeling welled up in the Upward Governess.  She masked it well, but it leaked out around the edges of her mind. You are a major disappointment.  She slid her finger across her tablet, and the boat glided soundlessly above water, floating towards the distant shore.  I’ve had enough of your company for today.

Whatever.  Yellow Thomas curled up.

I should cut you loose.  The Upward Governess lifted her multitude of chins.

She threatened to cut him loose all the time.  But she tended to follow each threat with an invitation to her indoor lake, or her water gardens, or her spa, or her solarium.  She never seemed to mean it.

Why?

I will give you four days to decide what’s important, the Upward Governess thought.  Now feed Me more of your Earth memories.

Yellow Thomas made a primitive growling sound of annoyance.  A session of Earth memories would give them both a credible excuse for why they’d been absent from the Megacosm for so long, but he hated to relive his past.

Half of his orbiters were curious about his former lifestyle among the natives of Earth.  He had to endure questions about humankind constantly, but the Upward Governess was like a tapeworm in his memory.  She consumed every facet of his experiences in foster care, as if his traumas and boring moments were buried treasures.  She gobbled up the same memories two or even three times.  He wished he understood why.

Why did she care about that time he’d sipped hot cocoa with Cherise in a ski lodge?

Why did she want to re-experience the times he had coached Cherise on chess moves?  Chess was a simplistic game for super-geniuses.

Her inner motives were mysterious.  Why did she lust for life?  Why did she collect human memories?  It made no sense.  Unless…

That’s enough, she silently told him.

She rejoined her mental chorus of admirers in the Megacosm.  That was a strong hint for Yellow Thomas to ascend as well.

She wanted him to set aside his suspicion.

Yellow Thomas longed to ascend into the rush of endless knowledge.  Instead, he remained fully focused, scanning her enormous mind.  For the first time, he ignored her knowledge and her memories.

He looked for threads of emotion.

There was one; a shiny glimmer of pleasure.  Yellow Thomas followed the thread and found a memory from his own life.  It was the time he had met a social worker who truly cared about what happened to him.

He glimpsed another hint of happiness.  He followed it into the depths of her mind, and sure enough, it was another one of his memories.  Cherise hugged him, thrilled that he had secured a contract to work for Rasa Biotech.

More gleams of pleasure led to some of his own best life experiences.

Those were the memories that stood out as valuable to the Upward Governess.  Not her own memories.  His.

The Upward Governess dropped out of the Megacosm.  A glacial chill came off her mind, enough to freeze a lake.

You envy Me?  Yellow Thomas studied her, not quite able to believe it.  How could an Indigo Blue Rank envy a pathetic Yellow who had grown up as a feral child on a primitive wilderness planet?

She had grown up with every whim fulfilled.  She owned slaves.  A private zoo.  An astronomy tower.  An indoor lake.  Countless gardens.  And she wielded galactic influence.  At her behest, planets were explored, scientists were promoted or demoted, and slave plantations were expanded or merged.  She directed matters of galactic importance.

He could hardly imagine her strapped in place, ensconced in a battery-drained wheelchair and taunted by children.

You lived lawlessly on Earth for most of your life.  Bitterness saturated her thoughts.  You had a chance at adulthood, and freedom (friends) (family) that I can never have.  Who wouldn’t envy that?

He stared at her.  Friends?  Family?

The Upward Governess had aced all of her childhood tests.  She should be as emotionally stable as any adult Torth.  True, the tests were imperfect, and sometimes an adult Torth would suddenly burst into tears or even laughter.  Such anomalies got executed on the spot.  They were considered mentally deranged.

But the Upward Governess?  She was a paragon of virtuous logic.  The Torth Majority trusted her.

If I had been born as you were (feral) (on Earth), the Upward Governess thought, I would have gotten the primitives to worship Me as a god.  I envy the chance you squandered.

Oh.

Yellow Thomas nearly laughed.  That was such a naive thought, coming from someone who was arguably the most intelligent person in the known universe.

The Upward Governess emanated bewilderment.  You disagree?  But you got at least one human to worship you.  Cherise.

Yellow Thomas hoped she was wrong about Cherise.  That had been friendship, not worship.

At least, he thought so.

His mentor’s bewildered frustration increased.  I do not like not understanding.  To her, everything in the universe could be categorized and defined.  Explain, she commanded.  Don’t you think you suffered needlessly among the primitives?  You could have manipulated all of them with your superior intellect.

Yellow Thomas folded his weak hands and pondered how to describe the human condition.

No matter what, the Megacosm glowed at the edge of perception.  It was inescapable.  The Upward Governess had always had a constant audience, even as a baby, but he supposed there was only one way to comprehend loneliness: One had to experience it.

On top of that, Earth was a wildlife refuge, mysterious and exotic, and off-limits to all Torth except for highly trained Servants of All.  Everything the Torth Empire knew about human societies and cultures came filtered through agents like the Swift Killer.  And Yellow Thomas.

Torth respect Your mind, he thought, groping his way through the explanation.  But in the place where I grew up, no one can see Your mind.  People would see You as greedy, and hold You in contempt for that.  They would see You as ugly and dislike You based on that.  Your eidetic memory would amaze them, and for that, they would fear You.  They would argue (speculate) about You, disbelieve You, certainly stare at You, but very few would worship You (the way You imagine).  Most people would judge You as a weird, freakish, selfish, greedy child.  Humans judge everyone with guesswork and assumptions.

Intrigue and displeasure dribbled from the Upward Governess.

The best thing about Torth is Our forthright nature, Yellow Thomas went on.  We cut straight to the truth.  There are no wrong assumptions.  We don’t bear any stigmas, unless We earn that stigma. 

The Megacosm erased superficial flaws or weaknesses.  Whenever Yellow Thomas was in the Megacosm, he was not disabled.  He was a colossus.  He could experience nearly anything he wished to experience, and inhabit any Torth body he chose.  Nobody in their right mind would trade away such power.

The Upward Governess sealed off her opinions behind a tsunami of data.

They were almost at the verdant shore.  A team of slaves and bodyguards waited for their boat to dock.  Yellow Thomas could hardly wait to regain his tranquility mesh.

But could he afford to relax and let his guard down?  His mentor was more dangerous than he had guessed.

He still wasn’t sure why the Upward Governess inhaled his memories like a hardcore drug addict.  Did she truly envy the lawless freedom he’d had on Earth?

Or did she envy him for having friends and family?

Puzzle pieces fit together in his mind, forming a new picture of his mentor.  Her near-daily invitations took on a whole new meaning.  She might demand more and more of his personal feel-good memories because she had no cache of her own.

Torth didn’t feel good.  Neither did slaves.  And even if she managed to find a relatively happy slave, the Torth Majority would condemn her for savoring its memories.  Torth were only supposed to share minds with other Torth.

She spent a lot of time in her gardens, among plants and among protected animals.

She must siphon their fuzzy animal feelings.

Yellow Thomas was her personal treasure trove of love and joy and vicarious fun times.

If you still want to live, she thought, never think of this topic again.

Bodyguards lifted them, extra gentle, and placed them into their respective floating hoverchairs.  The Upward Governess floated away.

He stared after her, stunned.

He had guessed right.  She couldn’t deceive a fellow mind reader, so she could only become defensive.

Wait!  Yellow Thomas sped up to get back within her range.  Friends and family are overrated, he assured her.  If other Torth ever figured out what she was addicted to, it would get her executed.  Humans never truly accepted Me.  I was miserable.  I was a superior among inferiors.  It was awful.  You’ve been overvaluing a few shining moments and ignoring the midden heap!

The Upward Governess signaled her bodyguards to escort him away.

You don’t need (friends) (family) love, he insisted.  Let Me help you understand that!

But he was alone in his mind, because the Upward Governess had floated out of range.

Bodyguards blocked his view, and their shadowy, hulking forms added to his chilled feeling.

He rotated and floated towards the exit, aware that her bodyguards would refuse any command that countermanded what their owner wanted.  He had no choice but to exit her suite.

Maybe he ought to feel relieved.

He had a free evening ahead, without busywork.  He certainly didn’t need companionship.  He wasn’t addicted to happy memories.

A sense of disquiet stayed with him as he floated along the breezy riverbank path.

The end of their discussion had felt disturbing.  Dangerous.  They’d flown apart like two repellent magnets.

The Upward Governess’s mind was as rock-solid as they came.  If accusations started flying in the Megacosm, people would believe her and disbelieve him.  She was far, far too good at hiding her secret:  A full range of emotions.

Yellow Thomas gritted his teeth and tried not to feel too vulnerable.  He wanted his tranquility mesh.  But he dared not remain alone for any longer.

He ascended into the Megacosm.

Millions upon millions of Torth immediately piled into his mind.  There you are!

  Finally!

    What were you two super-geniuses discussing?

      What sorts of thoughts can’t be shared with Us?

        (Yes) show Us.

          SHOW US.  SHOW US.  SHOW US.

The mob would have ripped it straight out of him, had his mind been normal-sized.  Instead, they had to make demands.  As a low rank, he was expected to comply.

She found My work disappointing.  Yellow Thomas replayed her scathing critique.

The mob churned with equal measures of scorn or indifference or commiseration.  If She gets sick of mentoring you, many thought, you can settle down as a mid-ranked scientist and still have a fulfilling life.

Yellow Thomas waited for his mentor to show up and defend him.  She might want time to think, but as a super-genius, she didn’t need much time.  She should be done by now.

Millions sensed his query and pointed him in the right direction.

Soon he located the Upward Governess as she trawled through oceans of knowledge.  She recoiled into avenues of science that Yellow Thomas lacked interest in.  He was relegated to being just another member of her immense audience.

When he persisted in staying with her, she dove into topics which he definitely found boring, such as soil composition and swamp ecology.

He got the hint and left her alone.  He wiped his palms on his armrests, and carefully did not think about why he was sweating.