Pained anguish roared off the slave, like a tsunami, far more pain than Yellow Thomas had anticipated, more than he had punished her with.  It almost felt like she was hurting him.  She stabbed her duster at him.  He cringed with illegal terror, but no one would feel it, because he’d been obliged to drop out of the Megacosm in order to mete out the punishment.

Alone and miserable, he cowered on the bed.  It took him a few seconds to realize that he was safe.  His multi-armed govki slave had fast reflexes.  It had dropped the tray of refreshments and seized the violent slave (Cherise) so she could not stab his face.

Of course he was safe.  He was a Torth.  A slave’s distress should not affect him at all, but he continued to feel miserable and hurt, as if he was a victim too, like the slave.

He searched for an explanation, a solution to make himself better and stronger, but that line of thought led to a dangerous precipice in his mind, and he backed away fast.  He had to stay tranquil.  That crevasse in his mind contained anger and fear and loneliness and all the pain he’d ever known, and to plunge back into his human legacy would be suicide.  Intense emotions meant insanity.

The Torth Empire would expect him to kill the violent slave.  KILL KILL KILL, the Majority would insist.  He should pull on his blaster glove and do his duty.

She (the slave) (Cherise) watched him as if she had never seen a more pathetic and despicable creature.  Although she wore filthy rags, and her hair was a mess, and the govki restrained her arms behind her back, she somehow looked noble.  She was the living, breathing embodiment of an entire civilization.  Relics and carvings were static and unchanging, but she was dynamic and multi-layered.  Her perceptions were infused with wonderment that only she was capable of.  Even her primal rage was unique.

Surely some Torth could be persuaded to recognize that this particular slave was more than mundane.  But not if she struggled to harm a Torth, silently challenging him to kill (to murder) her, as if a part of her understood that her death would be just as painful and deadly to himself as it was to her.

Yellow Thomas forced himself to close his eyes, to stop seeing her defiant face.  His blaster glove was within reach, in a pocket of his robe.  He was trembling too much to pull it on.  His throat tightened in an alarming way.  That was surely just an involuntary reaction to something he’d eaten, not an illegal emotion.

Do you want someone (Me?) (Me?) (Me?) to kill the bad slave for you? neighbors offered.

Yellow Thomas realized that he had ascended, blindly trying to escape his situation.  Hundreds of thousands of Torth crawled though the back of his mind.

Why do you hesitate? many wondered.  Kill the disobedient, violent, bad slave.

Cold sweat covered his body as he struggled to work his glove onto his frail hand.  If he failed to destroy this slave, then the Torth Majority would throw him into a prison and torture him to death, just like they’d destroyed the renegade (mother) who’d birthed him.  He reminded himself over and over that slaves didn’t matter, that he wasn’t supposed to care, and anyway, this slave was doomed no matter what he did or failed to do.  Yet still he hesitated, because an undercurrent burned through his mind in the opposite direction.

The Torth Empire had promised his younger self, Thomas Hill, that he would never need to harm his friends.

They had guaranteed it via the Upward Governess.  The Torth Majority had made a point of assuring him that this exact situation would never happen.  And he had believed them, because there was no such thing as deception among telepaths.

He had trusted them.

The huge audience in his mind swelled in a lecturing chorus.  That was then,

and this is now.

  Situations change.

    Truths change.

      You were feral back then. 

        Now you know better than to care about slaves.

The slave (Cherise) felt shattered and scorched, but so did he.  Had the Torth deceived him?  Betrayed him?

If he dared complain, the Majority would accuse him of being a mental deviant and condemn him to death.

“You pig,” another slave snarled at him.

This was the elder human (Lynn), her face contorted by a dangerous amount of hatred.  Both of the ummins watched with their beaks hanging open.

The elder human spoke in an ugly tone.  “While you lie there, surrounded by your ego, Ariock is being forced to kill people in an arena.  I’m sure you’ve congratulated yourself for surviving while the rest of us suffer and die.  Well, congratulations.  You’ll never know happiness.  You’re going to die alone.”

Kill her! the Torth Majority roared inside his mind.

  Kill both of the bad slaves!

    Kill, kill, kill!

Indeed, these two slaves (Cherise) (Lynn) had given up on their own survival and wanted to be killed.  Something deep inside Yellow Thomas writhed like an injured animal.

He lashed out with a powerful pain seizure.  Since it required his full focus, he dropped out of the Megacosm.  Lynn screamed in agony.

“Go,” Yellow Thomas commanded.

Maybe the other slaves heard the desperation in his voice.  Maybe they were simply obeying a Torth.  Either way, the elderly ummin and the third human dragged the two suicidal slaves towards the doorway.

Yellow Thomas poured ice on the turmoil inside him, and double-checked to make sure that his tranquility mesh was on its maximum setting.  Then he ascended into the Megacosm.

Torth clustered in the garden pathways of his neighborhood, armed with blaster gloves, ready to destroy the violent slaves that he had failed to kill.

Such valuable, exotic slaves should not be wasted on My account, Yellow Thomas thought.

Accusations drowned out his suggestion.  He was a failure.  Nobody respected him anymore.

I overestimated My own physical strength, Yellow Thomas admitted to his fast-growing audience.  I failed to use My blaster glove in time, partly because I lack adequate musculature, and partly because noise never bothered Me.  Anyhow, who would expect a slave to speak?  They’re little more than machines.

Doubts sprayed through him, nearly drowning his mental voice, but some Torth agreed with the validity of his points.  Yellow Thomas seemed calm and logical, and he had apparently kept his equanimity in the face of danger.  Most Torth would have summoned help from neighbors.

I am proud to be a Torth, Yellow Thomas assured them all.  Do You (My fellow Torth) want to spoil Our chance to enslave humankind?  He wanted to appeal to their desires, as the Upward Governess so often did.  Because that is what will happen if We kill Our three human slaves.

Silent voices muttered, but most of his listeners urged him to continue his line of thought.

I am an expert on humans, Yellow Thomas reminded everyone.  In My expert analysis, the human slaves will not attack anyone other than Me.  They will remain functional and obedient for all other Torth.  If We kill them (waste them) due to a very preventable encounter, then Our experimental trial of human enslavement will be nullified.

The Torth Empire debated his argument.  In the garden pathway outside, strolling Torth continued on their way.  Maybe it wasn’t so important to kill the exotic human slaves for their first transgression.  There was always tomorrow, if the humans were as bad as they seemed.

It won’t happen again, Yellow Thomas assured everyone.

Doubts rippled through the Torth Majority, but they agreed to give the human slaves one more chance.  Why not?  A lot of Torth were interested in enslaving humankind, and this experimental trio might last a while longer, yet.

I think they will, Yellow Thomas agreed.  Just as I may surprise You All with My worthiness.

As Torth batted doubts back and forth, Yellow Thomas signaled one of his slaves to fetch a bottle of painkillers.  An ache was bothering him somewhere deep inside his body, although he didn’t know exactly where it was rooted.  An echo of the slave’s pain remained trapped inside him.  Would he never know happiness?  It didn’t matter, since he was a Torth.  Would he die alone?  Not likely.

He didn’t dare think of himself as a victim.  He didn’t allow himself to think that he had been deceived, betrayed, manipulated, or taken advantage of.

I am loyal, he assured all the Torth in his audience, and their audiences.