She could get him killed with a thought.  All she had to do was ascend into the Megacosm and reveal his illegal thoughts about freeing slaves.  Yellow Thomas longed to escape her, to ascend into the rush of knowledge  that was the Megacosm, but he dared not tune out her colossal mind.

What do You want?  He tried to dissect her goals.  NAI-12 was often near the top of her mind.  Life.  Ambition.  A future.  She would probably do anything to gain more years of life, even break a law, except nobody could break a Torth law.

She had proven capable of bending them, though.  She had persuaded the Torth Majority to allow Yellow Thomas an opportunity to become a Torth citizen.  She had leaned on the highest ranks, like the Commander of All Living Things, pressuring them to vote against their own judgment.  She must have used up a lot of her own credibility, vouching for Yellow Thomas every time he made a faux pas or did something borderline illegal.  Even now, she protected him, when it would be easy and safe for her to turn him in.

You need Me, he realized, absorbing her reaction.

A primitive could figure that much out.  Her mind seethed, almost illegally frothy, before settling down to tranquility again.  Yes, she admitted.  I need a high rank super-genius ally.  Before I knew that you existed, I had hoped the Twins (the second and fourth eldest super-geniuses) would rise high enough in rank to request ingredients from Earth.  But they are not ambitious enough.  They want to live, but not enough.  Not the way you do.  She searched his mind with raw desperation.  The way you should.

Their reflections in the water showed how sickly they were, with distorted bodies.  Yellow Thomas almost felt sorry for his mentor.  He knew exactly what it felt like to spend every day under the shadow of an anvil that would fall and crush him.  He used to stay up all night, working on his laptop until his vision blurred and his neck ached, desperate to cure himself.

The Upward Governess was older than him by more than a year.  Every second she breathed must feel like borrowed time.  Nobody in the Torth Empire cared about the fate of super-geniuses, except for other super-geniuses.

Ingredients from Earth, he thought.  You need someone else to request more NAI-12.  The Torth Majority won’t approve another batch for You.

She silently affirmed his guess.  I used up all My requests (a lifetime of requests) to gain this batch of medicine, she thought, mentally indicating the NAI-12 case in its honored place within her reach.  It has given me a few extra months of life, but it’s not enough.  The supply is already running out.

Yellow Thomas leaned back against the cushions on his end of the boat, and gazed up at the clear green sky.  I’m sorry.

Fantasies unfurled beneath her surface, like roots beneath a forest.  Don’t you understand how more medicine will benefit both of Us? she thought.  It will benefit all super-geniuses.  She envisioned many futures, and in all of them, she’d replaced her obese body with a robotic shell of ionic tungsten-carbide.  Layers of armor would protect her flesh-and-blood brain.

Yellow Thomas reassessed her.  That future had to be impossible.

It doesn’t have to be, she insinuated. All I need is one or two more years of life.

She allowed him to glimpse her secret schematics.  Theoretically, she could engineer an indestructible body, given enough time.  All she needed was a year or two.  And then, once she made herself invincible, she would launch herself into outer space, so no one could execute her if she displeased the Majority.  From there, she could take over space stations and create robots to conquer the galaxy.  Everyone in existence would worship her as The Eternal Commander of All Living Things.  She would explore unmapped galaxies, perhaps with Yellow Thomas by her side in his own indestructible robotic replacement body.

Wow.  Yellow Thomas laced his weak fingers together.  You really are ambitious.  He used to have similar fantasies, back when he’d cared about living to adulthood, but he never would have guessed that his mentor harbored such naive, childish daydreams.

Naive?  Childish?  She puffed up like a defensive pufferfish, causing the boat to rock a little bit.  How dare you.

I doubt that the Torth Majority is as stupid as You assume, Yellow Thomas silently thought. There’s a reason they’ve kept genetic science, bioengineering, and Yeresunsa powers outlawed since the ancient Beginnings of Our Empire.  The Majority doesn’t want power in the hands of individuals.  Power belongs to the masses. 

That was what Torth civilization was predicated upon.  It wasn’t like she was the first super-genius who had tried to live to adulthood.  Throughout history, plenty of super-geniuses had begged for the legal freedom to cure themselves.  The Torth Majority remained firm.  They might indulge a productive super-genius like the Upward Governess, but only as long as she remained relatively harmless.

I can change the status quo.  The Upward Governess leaned forward, rocking the boat, certain that she was exceptional.  The only reason no super-genius has successfully lobbied to change the law is because We are too undervalued.  Her thoughts overlapped in such a dazzling array, they seemed like a volcanic eruption.  Instead of fireballs and lava, she revealed the outline of a scheme.  Too many Torth denigrate Us as mere technicians and calculators.  They refuse to acknowledge Our obvious superiority.  All I need to do is prove how indispensable I am.  I need a deadly crisis; something that no one else—not even the Commander of All Living Things—can solve.

They stared at each other across the boat.  Now Yellow Thomas understood how they could “help each other.”  She probably wanted him to wreak havoc and try to free slaves.  That way, she could fix the crisis.  In exchange for saving a city, she would demand to bend a law long enough to cure herself.

No, he thought.

We can plan it in such a way as to keep you safe, she insisted.  You must still have hidden ambition.  She gently probed his surface thoughts, seeking a weakness where he might cave in. Aid Me, and I will share the next batch of NAI-12 with you.  We will split it 50/50.

Yellow Thomas realized that he was drumming his fingers on a pillow, thinking about it.  He forced himself to stop the atavistic habit.  No.

Frustrated yearning swept through the Upward Governess. Don’t you want power and freedom and life?  As an immortal ruler of the universe, you could do whatever you wished. She paused.  You could free slaves.

She might . . . just might . . . have a valid point.

No.  He wasn’t going to abandon the humans for any reason.

We would be just and responsible rulers, the Upward Governess silently went on.  We’ll treat slaves well, and won’t destroy planets, the way the tyrannical Yeresunsa of long-ago used to do.  We will rebuild everything better.

Will We?  A flower lay crumpled in the bottom of Yellow Thomas’s mind, its petals streaked with brilliant hues of red and blue.  He used to imagine himself as wiser and morally superior to most of the people on Earth.  The Torth told themselves the same thing.

You doubt Our superiority?  The Upward Governess dug into his mind, curious.  Surely Torth are superior to slaves and animals. The average Torth was less intelligent than the average slave, but unlike slaves, they had access to all the knowledge of the collective, which enabled masses of Torth to accomplish great feats.  And even masses of Torth had tiny minds in comparison to super-geniuses.  We are the pillars that hold up the Megacosm.

Yellow Thomas suspected that super-geniuses were less important than she seemed to believe.  A pillar supported a roof, but a floor and walls and doors all had their own functions.  A transport pilot with fast reflexes was probably just as valuable as a super-genius, in the right situation.

You don’t believe that.  The Upward Governess exuded certainty.  Most people cruise through the Megacosm and accomplish nothing with their long lives.  But you and I?  Imagine what We could accomplish if We live to maturity.

Sure.  But if he had to wait for years to rescue (Cherise) certain slaves, then he might as well not bother.  Very few slaves survived to middle age.  Their quality of life was abysmal.

Your special slaves can be protected as part of My exotic collection, the Upward Governess offered.

She didn’t care about the humans.  Yellow Thomas sensed that were like any slaves in her city, nameless and disposable.  And what would become of (Ariock) the Giant?

His execution can buy freedom for Us, the Upward Governess thought.  We’ll let him rampage, then We’ll innovate a fast way to kill him, thereby saving My metropolis and proving the value of super-geniuses, which will give Us leverage to demand more NAI-12.

Yellow Thomas wanted to back out of her range, to hide whatever secrets he might still have left, but the boat was too small.  He wasn’t sure that extending his own life by a year or two was worth Ariock’s death.

Contempt bubbled from the depths of the Upward Governess’s mind.  We deserve it.  Super-geniuses shouldn’t die in puberty.  You need to look beyond your own greed.

Yellow Thomas paused in the middle of another protest.  Greed?  She owned a lake, she ruled a city, she wallowed in luxuries, and she thought nothing of the slaves who died while laboring to build her skyscrapers.  Which one of them was greedy?

You are.  Resentment reeled off of the Upward Governess.  All you care about is yourself.  My goal of invincibility is achievable, whereas your goal . . . ? She spun a cobweb of failure scenarios.  She doubted he could sabotage the inhibitor serum, and even if he managed it, the Giant might still never manifest his powers and die clueless.  Or what if Red Ranks shot the Giant before he could go into wrecking mode?  Torth always won battles.  They crushed every rebellion.  And even if a few slaves escaped, where would they hide?  Runaways would be hunted down within hours.  Yellow Thomas would be sentenced to death by torture in the Isolatorium, like his nameless mother.

He could almost feel hot pincers tearing his skin apart.

So let Me help you, the Upward Governess offered. Or else. She imagined Cherise tortured to death.

Cherise had suffered terrible abuse, and she’d learned to stop complaining, to stop talking, to just survive.  Yet she had never fully become the loyal, ingratiating pet that her Ma wanted her to be.  That was why she would recover.  She still had her humanity.

Yellow Thomas squared his shoulders.  No, he decided.

The Upward Governess remained expressionless, but her mind reeled.  She had anticipated this conversation, but she had not expected his refusal.

On Earth, every foster parent and adult had expected him to do as they commanded.  They’d all taken his capitulation for granted.  If adults had gotten their way, he would have remained bored in a school for gifted children, unable to work around the clock on a life-saving medicine, unable to attract funding from major pharmaceutical companies.

Wondering if he was making the worst mistake of his life, Yellow Thomas plowed ahead, as authoritative as a high rank, as if he had deep blue eyes like hers.  Let’s reverse it, he offered her.  Help Me escape the Torth Empire, and come with Me.