Fragments from Thomas’s past sparkled within Torth minds. Watching a cartoon show. Dipping his finger into a cold lake. His memories were being assimilated into the Torth Empire.
Thomas was determined to distance himself from those memories. He must quit thinking about his past life (in public, anyway). He must look forward to his future as a Torth.
Really, he did.
He would no longer feel obligated to serve his friends as an inspirational support system. He no longer needed to act as anyone’s therapist. That was something to look forward to.
What do those things mean? Show Us.
Thomas examined nearby minds, perplexed. Hadn’t the Torth learned everything about humanity?
It seemed that some of them had trouble grasping human concepts. Their understanding was superficial. They had absorbed his life experiences in order to test him, but they had flushed away everything which they considered to be unimportant background data.
Hm. Thomas considered ways to explain therapy and friendship to people who hardly felt emotions. He made several attempts. Friends were people he felt an affinity for, and vice versa.
Ah. A few Torth dared to feel mildly curious. The rest simply did not care about primitives.
Welcome to civilization! the Torth Majority chorused at Thomas.
Welcome, reformed savage,
Opinions about Thomas coalesced. Millions of Torth silently debated summary descriptions of this new comrade. They did not want to saddle him with an insulting name-title. They would not call him the Human Hybrid, or the Reformed Savage, or anything that hinted at inferiority. But perhaps they would let him retain his human moniker? His upbringing was unique beyond all comparisons.
They would combine his primitive name with his rank. That made for a simplistic name-title, but they could always vote to change it once he began to prove his prowess in some area of expertise.
WELCOME, the Majority thundered. YELLOW THOMAS.
Yellow Thomas smiled thinly. As a Torth, he hoped he could get a change of clothes. And a meal.
First your eyes!
A slave approached, carrying what looked like a surgical instrument. It offered the device to one of the testers.
A suggestion blossomed throughout the audience. Change his eyes.
Change his eyes!
The tester prepared the surgical device. He bent, and angled the instrument at Yellow Thomas’s right eye.
Yellow Thomas flinched.
It was a terribly primitive reaction. He realized that right away. By watching his entire life from the point of view of an emotionless outsider, he had seen humans for what they were: Dogs. Cattle. Shallow creatures ruled by their emotions. They formed little packs and herds, and bickered over territory and mating privileges. He had attached far too much importance to their trivial concerns.
You didn’t know any other way, the distant Upward Governess assured him. Now you do.
At her behest, information flooded Yellow Thomas from the nearby testers and their inner audiences. He experienced ninety-seven different Promotion Ceremonies through other people’s memories.
It would be painless. The Torth had already grafted artificial lenses to his eyeballs, while he was unconscious and being transported from Earth. The high-tech wand would reprogram each lens to display another color: Yellow instead of black.
Black is the eye color of unripe (immature) Torth. Distant minds jumped ahead of one another, eager to introduce Yellow Thomas to the rules of civilization.
Now that you have passed the Adulthood Exam,
you will begin adulthood as a Yellow Rank,
as We all do.
Different hues of yellow fanned through their minds: Lemon, gold, tawny, chartreuse. Certain hues indicated a bias towards a higher rank.
They emphasized that most Torth were satisfied to live and die as Lemon Yellows. Few earned a promotion.
He is ambitious, the Upward Governess thought. He won’t be satisfied to remain a Yellow.
Yellow Thomas relaxed, now that he knew what to expect. The tester used the wand to pry his eyelids apart. Most humans and slaves would have jerked away, but he remained calm.
First one eye.
Then the other.
It took less than five seconds.
The artificial sky brightened to a golden dawn. Yellow Thomas raised his newly yellow gaze.
As he admired the flawless sky, he saw himself reflected in the nearest perceptions. He wore rumpled, stained clothes. He sat in his anachronistic wheelchair. But his iridescent yellow eyes made him look unearthly.
Raise him up!
Let Us see him!
The testers made a command gesture, and the govki slave obeyed, lifting Yellow Thomas with its top pair of hands.
Yellow Thomas suppressed his annoyance. He was used to being dressed and bathed as an invalid, but he preferred to have some minor bit of control over what happened to his body. Autonomy was valuable.
Raised up, he saw his biological aunt (no, families don’t matter) the Swift Killer on the far side of the atrium.
Judging by her frown, she had expected or hoped that Yellow Thomas would fail the Adulthood Exam. Her crossed arms made her seem human. Other Torth did not cross their arms or frown. The Swift Killer, he realized, was an anomaly among Torth.
He wondered why. How often had she visited Earth? For how long?
He is still ignorant? Many Torth seemed surprised. They wondered why Yellow Thomas hadn’t joined the Megacosm yet.
Join Us already!
Yes, join Us!
In the Megacosm, you will learn as much as you wish.
Ascend and be a god!
Yellow Thomas groped for his inner audience. But he had none. He was alone inside his own mind, as always.
Oh, come on! One of the testers, a woman with her white hair swept back, assured him that ascending into the Megacosm was easy. A baby can do it.
Yellow Thomas was careful to hide his fears. But he wondered: What if he was too human to connect to their neural network? What if he was mentally handicapped, in comparison to an average Torth?
A single mental voice cut through his concerns. You (Yellow Thomas) have every ability that an average Torth has. And more. The Upward Governess regarded him with ironclad certainty.
The tester echoed her. Indeed.
Once he enters the Megacosm…
…he will gobble up knowledge like the Upward Governess.
Yellow Thomas began to speculate on what they meant.
I will show him how to ascend, the Upward Governess offered.
She floated down an aisle, followed by unspoken speculations. Nobody expected a Blue Rank to waste her valuable time on something so trivial. Anyone could enlighten the former savage in their midst.
He needs some preparation, the Upward Governess thought. He will be like an infant, ascending for the very first time. The Megacosm may be a shock to his mind (even though he is a super-genius) (like Me).
The testers moved aside, making room for the obese Blue Rank in her extra-large hoverchair.
When the Upward Governess entered Yellow Thomas’s range of telepathy, he had to suppress a gasp of shock. She crashed into his awareness like an ocean, obliterating everything else. Her mind seemed to crackle with as much energy as the sun.
In a mere instant, she inundated him with Torth laws and significant history. She taught him how to drive a hovercart, how to pilot a (transport) flying vehicle, and the rudiments of how to operate data tablets and multi-purpose blaster gloves. And by the way, she governed the local province, with a population comparable to Japan.
All of the other Torth minds seemed insignificant in comparison to hers. They were like mosquitoes swarming around a mountain, unable to absorb a fraction of the data that radiated from her.
Because they could forget.
That is how We are alike, Yellow Thomas realized, trying to study her colossal mind. You have a flawless, unlimited memory. Like Me.
Correct, the Upward Governess affirmed. We both have a rare beneficial-detrimental congenital mutation. It allows Us to imbibe and retain more knowledge than any other living beings. We are super-geniuses.
Other Torth implied that the super-genius mutation was fatal.
Research into a cure was forbidden. Super-geniuses were bioengineered to be short-lived, with severe neuromuscular disabilities.
You (Yellow Thomas) unwittingly circumvented the law against researching a cure, the Upward Governess thought with sly approval. You invented this marvelous treatment. Her hand rested on the NAI-12 case, squished onto the seat beside her.
Yellow Thomas didn’t like the way she displayed his stolen medicine.
He searched the expressionless faces of the testers, and wondered, Why are super-geniuses bioengineered to die young? Why is a cure illegal?
Torth exchanged glances. Certain things were just common knowledge.
He really ought to ascend into the Megacosm, they whispered to each other.
He can learn everything there.
Even so, they offered answers, so many that they piled on top of each other.
We (the glorious Torth Empire) had a bioengineering mishap,
in Our early beginnings.
Images of misshapen mutants spun from their minds. Not just mutants. There were people with godlike powers. A glowing woman whipped lightning bolts from her hands. Men and women flew like superheroes. They commanded tornadoes, oceans, tectonic plates, and armies.
Those superhuman people had ruined continents. Planets. Interstellar empires.
The ancient memories felt stale. They lacked detail, passed down from generation to generation. It had happened millenniums ago; a thousand generations ago.
We (the Torth Empire) arose from the ashes of the mutant war, and their devastation.
Such a catastrophic war must never happen again.
We forbid bioengineering.
Excess mental powers are illegal.
Genetic science. Bioengineering.
Yellow Thomas assessed the Torth around him. Apparently they approved of his fatal disability?
It must be a counterbalance to his superhuman mental advantages; a way to ensure that he would not turn into a destructively dangerous mutant.
Correct, the Upward Governess thought.
Yellow Thomas tried to delve further into their rationale, their motives, but all he got were surface thoughts. Were the Torth really against genetic research? He had trouble believing that. Were all of their scientists incurious? Apathetic? How could an advanced galactic civilization ignore such an important branch of medical science?
Because they are idiots. That came from the Upward Governess.
Other minds crackled in disapproval. Only from Your perspective, super-genius.
Very few Torth (less than 0.00000005%)
suffer from fatal disabilities.
Why should We risk the safety of the known universe—
—just to cure a handful of super-geniuses?
Yellow Thomas tried to hide his dismay. No wonder the Upward Governess had taken risks to welcome him. Only a tiny sliver of a fraction of the Torth population were super-geniuses! She must have felt alone until he showed up.
No, the Upward Governess thought.
There are others, her audience chorused.
Torth relayed images of disabled children living on distant planets. A girl with curly hair in pigtails. A chubby, dark-skinned boy. A pasty-white girl with a bulbous nose. Younger ones.
Seventeen super-geniuses currently live in the Torth Empire.
Including you, Yellow Thomas.
Yellow Thomas did a quick calculation in his mind. If seventeen super-geniuses represented less than 0.00000005% of the total Torth population, that extrapolated to….
He double-checked his math. The Torth population couldn’t be that staggeringly enormous.
The Upward Governess confirmed his calculation. 38.2 trillion individuals (and growing).
Yellow Thomas tried to mute his disgusted awe. Were they all biological beings? Did they mass-reproduce like swarms of bugs?
Other minds chimed in. Every healthy adult gamete donor produces an average of fifty viable offspring.
Our swiftly growing population allows Us to colonize more planets.
We are always expanding Our boundaries.
The Upward Governess nudged his mind in a manner that felt like “up.” You can learn these facts, and more, from anyone in the galaxy. She silently encouraged Yellow Thomas to reach for anyone—any mind—who might reach back.
How many times had he tried this on Earth, yearning to find other telepaths?
He used to reach blindly for others, but it never mattered how hard he tried. He was always alone inside his head.
Yet this time…
They were reaching for him, the same way he reached for them.
They knew he existed.
They wanted him, and that made all the difference.
In a sudden chilling rush, Yellow Thomas sensed very distant minds. He glimpsed palaces and cities through the eyes of foreign Torth. A dozen other people. A hundred other people. A thousand.
Double that. Quintuple that, and on and on. A million Torth connected to his mind.
Outward he swept, out and out and out, far past the boundaries of his previous life, to distant and fantastic places. The Torth Empire was much larger than a single city. The Empire was everywhere. They had colonized more than ninety million planets. They owned everything in the known universe. Literally everything.
Not even his capable mind could encompass it all.
The network of knowledge was so staggeringly huge, he couldn’t understand how he’d never seen it before! It was like living on a mountain all of one’s life and never once looking up to see the all-powerful sun! He was seeing everything in existence! He was hearing a trillion melodies! The power and size of the Empire was beyond imagination!
His eyes bulged, and he gasped for air in between the racing currents of information. He gripped his wheelchair’s armrests until his knuckles went white.
All of this (Mine)? It was the only coherent thought he could manage.
Ours, the Upward Governess corrected.
How could I not see it before? Yellow Thomas marveled. Facts and images and lives tore through his mind, filtered and sorted the instant they entered, in a deluge that made everything before it look like a faucet leak. He lived through a dozen Torth lives, a hundred, ten thousand, two million, and on and on until he felt as though his brain would melt.
He saw the aftermath of a volcanic eruption on Tuthwa, the second largest moon of Vazza, seventy thousand light years away.
He admired the latest fashion trend set by Kemkorcan colonists.
He watched a colorful solar eclipse on Jev Rattad, an ancient agricultural planet, through the eyes of one of its colonists.
He rode with an interstellar survey crew as they drew near an icy planet orbiting a gas giant.
He witnessed a supernova through an explorer who’d died in it, sending the image on to other Torth even as she was vaporized.
He understood the exact range and limits of orbital stations, and how ionic polymer tungsten-carbide spaceship hulls withstood the radiation of solar flares.
He understood the genetic mutations which afflicted the Empire, and how mutations were controlled through selective breeding on baby farms. He knew what medicine each one required. Experiences washed through him, faster and faster, depositing their information in his mind and sending him hurtling towards the next new thing.
During the Adulthood Exam, he had barely flickered an eyelid, and now he felt as though he might shriek from awe.
This is God, the old, obsolete part of him whispered. I am seeing God.
You ought to withdraw now, the Upward Governess silently suggested. Her gigantic mind was less impressive in the Megacosm, since there was so much of it. She was like a whale cruising through an endless ocean. It may be too much (too overwhelming) for your first time.
But there was still more, and more, and more! Individuals danced in and out of the background of his mind, all commenting on everything he saw and heard and smelled and felt. Their collective wisdom piled up and enhanced every experience.
The Megacosm will (still) (always) exist, the Upward Governess thought, bulking into his immediate awareness. Drop down so We can have a coherent conversation.
Reluctant, Yellow Thomas slid back into his solo self.
It felt like dropping out of the heavens. Oh, but he was not the same person he had been. The old version, Thomas Hill, had been severely limited.
Eight seconds in the Megacosm had augmented his knowledge a thousand-fold. Just eight seconds.
His ordinary range of telepathy now felt like a straight-jacket.
Distance meant nothing in the Megacosm. A Torth could stroll through a garden while chatting with colleagues on the far side of the galaxy, while the light from their local suns required over a hundred thousand years to reach each other. Yellow Thomas had been missing out on the wonders of the galaxy all his life. Other Torth shared huge amounts of knowledge, immersed in the Megacosm from infancy until death. His limited childhood was a handicap more severe than any neuromuscular disease.
Correct, the Upward Governess sent. Since you grew up apart from other mind readers, you only knew the low form of telepathy. The Megacosm is the high form.
Her mind seemed monstrous and inscrutable once more—but only because he had down-shifted. He was a level below the Megacosm while she continued to swim in it.
So it was with all the Torth.
They had never hidden their thoughts from him. They simply existed on a higher plane, sharing their real-time perceptions and knowledge with Torth on distant worlds while simultaneously dealing with him.
You understand, the Upward Governess sent.
He did. The Megacosm was what made him a god. Slaves and luxuries…? Those were just perks.
That wonderfully busy plane of existence hovered just above Yellow Thomas, calling to him, inviting him to come back, warming him like sunlight on his skin. Its presence was a comfort such as he had never known.