The Upward Governess reclined aboard a hoverboat, with a floppy-brimmed hat to keep sunlight out of her eyes.  Iridescent bugs flitted above lily pads.  Discreet fans simulated a breeze, directing fragrances from tropical plants and wildflowers across the artificial islands.

What kind of a lazy, unambitious, good-for-nothing super-genius are you? she greeted him.

Yellow Thomas reluctantly parked his hoverchair at the lake’s edge.  Slaves gently lifted him into the boat, facing her.  Ornately decorated pillows made for a comfortable seat.

Her slaves removed his tranquility mesh.  He dared not protest.

The Upward Governess used a data tablet to operate the boat.  Soon they were speeding away from shore.  They each dropped out of the Megacosm.

Privacy was a luxury.  It was safe only as long as he was in her company.

I chose you, his mentor thought, because you are ambitious.  You are starving for life, like Me. 

Yellow Thomas gazed at the crystal blue water.  It was nice to admire the refraction of water without interference from a thousand orbiters.  His watery reflection was pale peach and yellow next to the fat blue shape of his mentor.

I expect you to innovate, she went on.  If I start praising work that is less than what I am capable of, then My praise becomes meaningless.  I would need to praise millions of scientists. 

That was a valid point.

Yellow Thomas made himself more comfortable, waiting for her lecture to end.

The Upward Governess swiped her data tablet, steering them around an island of tropical trees, laden with fruit.  I know what you want.  She pictured the gray goo hidden in his laboratory.

!!!  Yellow Thomas jerked as illegal panic stabbed through him.

That’s right, she thought, measuring his reaction. You’ve fooled other Torth, but I believe I’ve deduced your furtive little plan.

Yellow Thomas was too shocked to respond.

He had taken pains to bury his illegal activity.  He had been certain that no one, not even his mentor, suspected.

How had she guessed?

You should not make a habit of underestimating Me, the Upward Governess thought in response to his shock. I’ve observed that 73.9% of your privacy breaks occur when you are near your chemical laboratory.  Any moron would notice if you’re developing a bomb or a chemical weapon.  But you could conceivably develop an ingredient for an illegal medicine or toxin.  I expect that you want to manufacture a citywide evacuation?  Am I right? She assessed him with deep blue eyes.

Mind readers could not lie to each other.  All Yellow Thomas could do was avoid her gaze and struggle to hide his shame.  She must have held this advantage over him for months, like a cat with a mouse trapped between her claws.

You plan to sabotage a key ingredient of the inhibitor serum, the Upward Governess figured, so you can use the Giant as a battering ram.  You want to replace the inhibitor patch in the Giant’s collar, thus empowering him to go on a mad rampage.  That will trigger a citywide evacuation.  You might be able to smuggle the human slaves (Cherise, Vy) out during such chaos.

His cheeks burned.  He dared not ascend.

This was it.  Checkmate.  If they were playing a deadly game, then she had won.  All she had to do was ascend into the Megacosm and reveal his illegal plan.

She could get him killed with a thought.

The Upward Governess leaned back, causing the boat to rock.  Oh, that is not what I want.

Yellow Thomas felt as if target crosshairs were playing across his chest.  She was going to get him executed.

What do You want?  He tried to dissect her goals.

We can help each other, little Yellow, she thought.  Don’t you see that?  Don’t you want that?

He watched her, wary.

All I want, she thought, is for you to regain your ambition.  Please Me.  And I guarantee that you will see new possibilities.

She used her data tablet, and the boat glided onward.  Sunlight sparkled on water.

New possibilities.  What was she hinting at?

Without a tranquility mesh, Yellow Thomas’s mind felt sharper than an ionic blade.  He assessed his mentor.  Her hair had a new luster.  Her cheeks looked more rosy.

It occurred to him that she was far more driven than any other living super-genius.  She aimed for adulthood like a missile to a target.  She had overcome countless political obstacles in order to get her hands on a forbidden, limited supply of medicine.

He marveled at her.  What drives You?

The Upward Governess glared at him from beneath her hat.  Her titanic mind reared and swirled like a nuclear furnace.  I want (I crave) (desire) hunger for…  Suspicion shadowed her thoughts.  You are not ready for My goals, little Yellow.  Maybe you will never be ready.

Yellow Thomas decided to discard all of his unfair judgments about the Upward Governess.  He needed to see her with fresh eyes.  Just the facts.

Who was this person sitting across from him in the boat?

Why did she care so much, when so few Torth cared about anything?   

She was willing to protect someone with plans to sabotage her city.

She had persuaded the Torth Majority to do something unprecedented.

She had pressured some of the the highest ranks in the known universe to vote against their own self-interest.

In vouching for Yellow Thomas, she had used up a lot of her own credibility.

You need Me, he realized.  You believe I am a key to something You want.

A primitive could have figured out that much.  Her mind seethed, almost illegally frothy, before settling down to tranquility again.  Yes, she admitted.

Their reflections in the water exaggerated how sickly they were, their bodies distorted.

The Upward Governess was older than Yellow Thomas 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.

You need someone else (of high rank) to request more NAI-12 for You, he realized.  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 is not enough.  The supply is already running out.

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, until his vision blurred and his neck ached, desperate to cure himself.

Before I knew that you existed, the Upward Governess thought, I had hoped the Twins (the second and third eldest super-geniuses) would rise high enough in rank to request ingredients from Earth.  Together, We might have figured out a way to create batches of NAI-12 in secret.  But the Twins 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.

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

More medicine will benefit both of Us, the Upward Governess urged.  It will benefit all super-geniuses.

Fantasies unfurled in her mind, like roots beneath a forest.  She envisioned many futures.  In every possible future, she 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.  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.

And if Yellow Thomas proved helpful and cooperative?  Then she would allow him to become immortal alongside her, protected by his own indestructible robotic replacement body.

Wow.  Yellow Thomas stared at her.  You really are ambitious.

I am, she admitted.

He used to have similar fantasies, 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.

There’s a reason the Torth Majority has outlawed genetic science, bioengineering, and Yeresunsa powers, Yellow Thomas reminded her. You know it as well as I do.  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 the Upward Governess was the first super-genius who wanted to live to adulthood.  Throughout history, plenty of super-geniuses had begged for the legal freedom to cure themselves.

The Torth Majority might indulge a super-productive super-genius like the Upward Governess.  But they would only do so as long as she remained relatively harmless.

Laws can be changed.  The Upward Governess’s 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 (super-geniuses) as mere technicians and calculators.  They refuse to acknowledge Our obvious superiority.  All I need to do is prove how indispensable I am.  In fact, I actually 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 might secretly want 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. 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) (freedom) a future?  As an immortal ruler of the universe, you could do whatever you wished. She paused.  You could free slaves.

She might have a valid point.

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

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 fable.

You doubt Our superiority?  The Upward Governess dug into his mind, curious.  Surely Torth are superior to slaves and animals. Unlike slaves, Torth 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.

Wrong.  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.

Yellow Thomas wondered if Cherise could survive another year or two as a slave.

She can, the Upward Governess assured him.  I can protect your exotic humans as part of My exotic collection.

And what would become of Ariock?

His execution will buy eternity (freedom) for Us, the Upward Governess insisted.  We’ll let him rampage, and then We’ll innovate a fast way to kill him, thereby saving My metropolis and proving the value of super-geniuses.  That should give Us enough leverage to demand a fresh supply of NAI-12.

Yellow Thomas felt sick with unexamined emotions.  He wasn’t sure if he wanted to participate in her plan.  He didn’t want Ariock to die.

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

His greed?

Yellow Thomas paused in the middle of a weak argument.  The Upward Governess ruled a province, she wallowed in luxuries, and she thought nothing of the slaves who died while laboring to build her skyscrapers.  Really.  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.  You cannot control the Giant, despite what you believe.  He isn’t the same couch potato you met in the Dovanack mansion.  Your plan is dangerous, insane, and riddled with holes. 

Torth always won battles.

They crushed every rebellion.

The Upward Governess pointed out that the Giant might never manifest his powers, even if Yellow Thomas succeeded in sabotaging his inhibitor collar.  The Giant could die clueless.  Or what if Red Ranks shot him before he could go into wreckage mode?

And even if that part of the plan worked perfectly, and a few slaves ran away—where could they hide?  Runaways were usually rounded up within hours.

Yellow Thomas would be caught and sentenced to death by torture in the Isolatorium, like his nameless mother.

He could almost feel hot pincers tearing his skin apart.

He wanted to back out of her range, to hide whatever secrets he might still have left, but the boat was too small.

Let Me help you, the Upward Governess offered. Or else. She imagined a vivid scenario of Cherise dying in the Isolatorium.

On Earth, every foster parent and adult had expected Thomas to do as they commanded.  They had taken his capitulation for granted.  But if he had allowed adults to get their way … he would have been a bored child 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.

Yellow Thomas squared his shoulders.

Somewhere in this city, Cherise still had her humanity.  She was never going to become the ingratiating pet that her Ma wanted her to be.

No.  Wondering if he was making the worst mistake of his life, Yellow Thomas plowed ahead, as authoritative as a Blue Rank.  Let’s reverse it, he offered.  Help Me escape the Torth Empire, and come with Me.