Yellow Thomas swiped his data tablet, controlling an enormous robotic arm in his medical laboratory. He doubted that his experiment on kidney function would ever matter to anyone, but his mentor was relentless with giving him busywork assignments. It seemed she was trying to prevent him from thinking about important things.
Not that many things seemed important anymore. Thanks to the tranquility mesh around his forehead, he felt mellow most of the time. Meshes were better than Prozac when it came to keeping a person away from dangerously intense emotions.
Prozac? Thousands of Torth medical experts in his mental audience wondered what that was.
He flashed his recollection of illustrations on the neurological effects of antidepressants.
His ever-shifting audience burbled with various reactions. Most of them were fans of super-geniuses, but others were curious about what he was working on, or interested in his unique upbringing. Torth never left him alone. Even when he was settling down for sleep, even when he used a toilet, even if he was groggy from waking up, they were eager to listen.
How can he possibly focus on his work with that ugly screaming in the background? a few hundred of them wondered.
Yellow Thomas tried to get rid of the goth electronica song that was stuck in his head. Music always came back. He couldn’t quite rid himself of that atavistic inclination, any more than he could shed his constant audience. His Torth audience had to get used to it if they wanted to spend any time inhabiting his mind. He liked music.
This primitive sound-art (music?) connotes a feeling of anger, one of the scientists in his audience observed.
Is he deranged?
Why tolerate such unpleasant imagined sounds?
Other scientists in his audience imagined a defused bomb, and thought, Music is safely detached from emotions, although it may connote illegal emotions.
It is harmless.
He can’t help himself.
Everyone has at least one primitive flaw.
Indeed, some Torth snored while they slept, while others were addicted to overeating, and others frowned a bit too often. Such tics were permitted because they had no effect in the Megacosm. Sure, Yellow Thomas had an overabundance of primitive tics—he overvalued privacy, he talked in his sleep, he bit his lower lip when he was deep in thought, and he kept getting music stuck in his head—but he wasn’t ashamed. He just dialed up his tranquility mesh if he began to feel that way. Shame could be illegal if it happened too often.
Sometimes he had nightmares (dangerous) (bad thought) which he did his best to forget about. Artificially-supported internal organs floated in display cases throughout his laboratory, with statistical readouts scrolling above each kidney, liver, or pumping child-sized heart. He tried not to remind himself where the organs came from. But sometimes he glimpsed a spike of fear in the Megacosm, and he sensed it came from a murdered child who was emotionally or developmentally disabled. Baby farm rejects got killed.
If he didn’t experiment on their harvested organs, another scientist would.
We value you, thousands of fans whispered in his mind.
You are an adult citizen, and therefore safe.
You are one of Us.
That was true. Yellow Thomas tapped calculations on his tablet, aware that no one on Earth had ever valued him as much as the Torth did. He ought to be grateful that they saw him as more than a special-needs child. On Earth, technicians and scientists had humored him, unwilling to credit him with any scientific break-throughs. Rasa Biotech hadn’t trusted him to use major lab equipment. Now he controlled a vast high tech laboratory with his tablet, without needing any technicians. He was safe as long as he didn’t risk thinking about certain (slaves) things. Especially not about . . . about . . .
I need a privacy break, he let his audience know.
That stirred them up, because only a criminal would insist on privacy so often. The Torth Majority had tolerated his eccentric behavior for a few weeks, but as the Upward Governess seemed to lose confidence in him, critics were growing bolder.
STAY, they thundered.
It felt like backing offstage in front of millions of watchers. He disconnected before they summoned the Upward Governess’s attention, and before they summoned a Red Rank or two to raid his suite. That would happen soon. He figured he had about three minutes.
He dialed off his tranquility mesh, because if he was going to remember anything important, he needed to feel the reasons why.
Her name was a key, and when he used it, an enormous and ghastly problem reemerged from the buried depths of his mind.
His throat clicked as he swallowed. Soft dripping sounds from the chemistry corner made him feel trapped in a cave. After the bustle and dazzle of the Megacosm, his sterile home suite was as silent as a tomb.
One of his personal slaves watched him while it worked, attentive for hand signals. Yellow Thomas kept his facial expression blandly neutral while his mind raced. If a slave noticed anything strange, the entire Torth Empire would have a mnemonic recording of it within hours.
Cherise. Vy. Ariock and Lynn. It seemed a lifetime ago that he had promised to bring them home.
It had been seven weeks, but it might as well have been a hundred million years ago. In a way, Yellow Thomas had been a Torth far longer than he’d been a human.
During his first few days as a Yellow Rank, he had considered sending them a message. That was why he’d chosen a slave that had a passing familiarity with the humans. Now he almost wished the slave would trip and break something, or disobey a command, just so he’d have a valid excuse to disown it. His choice looked suspicious. If he commanded the slave to smuggle a note, or to deliver anything unusual—anything that inspired curiosity or hope—well, hope shone like a beacon to anyone who could read minds. A delivery to slaves would make them hopeful, which would arouse the suspicions of any Torth passersby. Then a Torth would probe their minds and learn the truth, and the result would be death by torture for everyone involved.
His slave offered him an imperfect window into the lives of Cherise, Vy, and Lynn. So he could spy on them, but what was the point? They were struggling, and he could have guessed as much.
Yellow Thomas navigated his hoverchair past a row of evaporation chambers, past his pharmaceutical experiments. No matter how he picked at the rescue problem, he came to the same disheartening conclusions. He couldn’t deliver anything that would inspire hope. Nor could he smuggle anyone out of a city full of mind readers. The spaceport was crawling with Red Ranks and watchful guards, as were the hover harbors, and the prison. Every exit point was crowded with people at all hours. Tourists filled the city. He couldn’t sneak anywhere, and if he vanished from the Megacosm for more than a few minutes, there would be a man hunt.
Only one circumstance would allow slaves like Cherise to walk away from this city. Mass evacuation. All of the millions of local Torth and guards needed to be gone.
A fanciful flower surfaced in his mind. Cherise had drawn that flower a long time ago, streaking its petals with vibrant reds and blues. It used to hang on the wall across from his bed in the Hollander Home. “This flower has magical healing properties,” Cherise had told him, embellishing the unique flower. “But it’s so rare, and so unique, no one believes it exists. They don’t think it’s possible. It’s like you.”
He floated past an experiment with gray goo dripping from a coil, and he tried not to look at that particular experiment. The best thing about being a super-genius was that he could hide small secrets beneath floods of data. His mind was too vast, too cluttered with useless trivia, for anyone to probe it entirely.
He floated past the goo one more time, glancing at the readout. There was a certain path he could take. He had examined the problem from every angle, and his options were limited to this one slim, crazy, rash, half-baked scheme that was more likely to fail than succeed. And it was likely to get a lot of people killed.
He kept recalculating his opportunities, reexamining every factor, hoping for another way besides mass murder.
Red Ranks would burst into his suite at any moment. They had raided his laboratories and chambers several times, seeking anything that might indicate illegal activity, partly because he did suspicious things, and partly because a lot of slaves seemed to be talking about him. Yellow Thomas wasn’t allowed to work on anything that might be weaponized, of course.
He dialed up his mesh, aiming for a better state of mind. Every time he risked thinking about the problem, he had more trouble justifying the risk, even to himself. The silence in his head felt unnaturally lonely. Certain slaves (Cherise) belonged on Earth . . . but he did not. Humans were undeniably different from him, unable to see beneath the skin, whereas he saw every crippling fear and dirty secret. In some ways, humankind was a rotten apple to him, crawling with maggots.
Perhaps he should give up on solving the problem. He could spend his final months of life in blissful luxury instead of getting tortured to death. (Cherise, forgive me. Cherise, I never deserved your friendship.)
A brilliant flower floated in the secret depths of his mind, crushed and trampled.
Yellow Thomas ascended into the Megacosm, into a whirlwind as fast and furious as rush hour traffic in the busiest metropolis in the universe.