Yellow Thomas soaked in warm water, inhaling the soothing fragrance of his spa, thinking about how crazy he would have to be to reject the enlightened civilization that valued his mind. Sometimes insane Torth tried to (escape) unplug from the Megacosm, but they were clearly traitors, and they never survived long enough to steal slaves or to threaten innocent Torth citizens. They always got hunted down and killed. Alone and cut off, they lacked new information and could not anticipate the swiftly changing battle tactics of many minds.
A few hundred Torth listened to his thoughts. Yellow Thomas sculpted foamy bubbles, and tried not to wish he had no audience. That would be insane. He was already dangerously unpopular, and he really ought to stop exploring dangerous lines of thought.
But ever since he had lost the Upward Governess’s mentorship, he hadn’t been permitted so much as a single second alone inside his own—
His nearby slave threw itself down in a posture of subservience, facing the doorway behind Yellow Thomas. Several imposing figures had just entered his relaxation spa.
The foremost figure was skeletal, with an enormous mantle that rested on her body armor, with horns that twisted upward from her shoulders and ended in sharp points far above her head. A white shroud hung from the horns, framing her.
!!! Every Torth in his inner audience surged with exclamations and deference. Everyone recognized the Commander of All Living Things.
Yellow Thomas struggled to sit up, splashing water. She might command him to kill himself. That was how she dealt with high ranked failures, or anyone whom the Majority denounced as a traitor to the Empire.
I am loyal, he assured his audience, making a point of not reaching for his blaster glove. Only a guilty person would try to defend himself. The Commander of All and her entourage of Servants of All had much faster reflexes and better weapons. Not that that should matter. Weapons were irrelevant. Loyal Torth never killed loyal Torth. He went through a series of meditation exercises.
He is afraid, their minds whispered as they glided to a stop at the edge of his spa.
He should be.
If he should be afraid, then his fear was rational and therefore permissible.
Uh, welcome to My suite, Yellow Thomas thought, trying to be polite. Had I known that You (Commander of All Living Things) would visit, I would have arranged a banquet in Your honor. He gestured for more bubbles in his spa, hoping that his nerves would calm down once his nudity was covered.
The Commander of All Living Things stared down at him with empty eyes. She stood behind him, so her inner audience had a full view of him. His inner audience only had a ridiculous upside-down view, as he was too weak to sit up fully or twist around.
Did you (Yellow Thomas) sabotage the inhibitor serum? she inquired.
There was no way to lie to to her, of course. Yellow Thomas could hear the thump of his heart. Every Torth within his range, as well as the thousands in his audience, could hear how much adrenalin he had in his system.
Such an action would be nearly impossible for Me. He offered all of his memories, like a dragon opening its maw for a tooth count. Witness.
If he’d had a normal mind, his secrets would be laid bare, but his mind was too large, too cluttered with trivialities, for anyone to absorb it all. It would require lifetimes. The Commander of All Living Things made an attempt. She dropped out of the Megacosm in order to focus on his activities as a Yellow Rank, studying one memory after another. She went over his final exchange with the Upward Governess. She examined his encounter with the human slaves, then cross-examined it.
While she examined his mind, a Servant of All injected him with micro-darts of the inhibitor serum. It felt like stinging raindrops on his skin. The city had replaced all batches of the inhibitor serum with fresh batches imported from another world.
I am an upstanding Torth citizen. Yellow Thomas let everyone sense his sincerity. I belong in the Torth Empire. He was naked, his suite had been invaded, and he was under suspicion, as usual, but he really hadn’t done anything to warrant it.
Servants of All exchanged unreadable glances. They thought, If a Yellow Rank can hide slave sympathies and criminal activity—
—from the entirety of the Torth Empire—
—for such a long time,
then all Torth are suspect.
Indeed. The Commander of All Living Things let her focus spread outward in the Megacosm. The Adulthood Exam is imperfect, and a super-genius can hide secrets, yet it is unlikely that even a super-genius can hide such a huge secret (insanity) for such a long time. Perhaps he is as loyal as he claims to be. She ran her spidery fingers across a nearby pedestal, and onto the relic on display; a jade lamp carved to look like a richly-dressed ummin. Although he does have odd tastes.
Foam jets continued to massage Yellow Thomas, jabbing him like the suspicions of his inner audience. Was she implying that he had slave sympathies? That seemed unfair. Lots of Torth valued history and collected artifacts from conquered civilizations. There was nothing wrong with owning relics and valuing history.
The Commander of All Living Things adjusted the relic on its pedestal. We don’t want the Giant to turn into a deadly disaster, she thought.
Many Torth agreed. Like Jonathan Stead, their minds whispered. Everyone in the Torth Empire knew about that incident.
Her blank eyes bored into him. Your former mentor (the Upward Governess) suggests that the best safeguard against catastrophe is to execute the Giant today. Right now. Just in case someone tries to tamper with the inhibitor again. Do you (Yellow Thomas) think that is a good idea?
He acknowledged the honor of being sought for advice, while trying not to wonder why the Commander of All was honoring him. It is wise. But, he thought with caution, many tourists in this city expect a spectacular execution for the Giant. If his death isn’t announced at least a day beforehand, then many tourists will miss out on witnessing it, and the Torth Majority will be disappointed.
The Commander of All Living Things considered that. She walked around his spa, her boots light upon sandstone tiles, and studied each of the relics displayed on pedestals. Yellow Thomas watched her and tried not to tremble. He tried not to wonder why she was lingering in his suite. This woman was arguably the most powerful living being in the known universe. The Majority had elected her by popular vote, and she had held her office for thirteen years, since before he’d been conceived and born. Most Torth admired her pragmatic devotion to upholding laws and making logical decisions.
Super-geniuses are difficult to trust, the Commander of All admitted idly. The Upward Governess has not offered any concrete explanation as to why killing the Giant immediately should be such a high priority. Thousands of tourists have traveled many light years to witness his execution. She shifted her full attention to Yellow Thomas. You are intimately familiar with human psychology. Perhaps you are more suited to advise the Torth Majority in the matter of this particular execution. Would you like the honor?
Yellow Thomas tried to feel honored, rather than sick with terror. He didn’t dare refuse. Refusal would look disloyal, as if he was trying to get out of serving the Majority.
Good. She continued to explore his mind, so focused that she dropped out of the Megacosm. Her Servants of All relayed her thoughts to the massive audience. Design a suitable execution for the Giant, she commanded.
A distant, buried part of Yellow Thomas spluttered in outrage.
Make it something that We (the Torth Empire) have never seen before, the Commander of All added.
The listening audience roared with approval. Yes.
We are bored with forcing prisoners to kill and eat each other.
Give Us something new.
Yellow Thomas acknowledged the great honor. He had just been offered a significant role in an historical event. Anyone who helped destroy the freakishly powerful Giant would be remembered for many generations, and that was an honor that even the Upward Governess would envy.
I am honored, he let everyone know. But I am an illogical choice, due to My particular connection to the Giant.
What do you mean? the Commander of All wondered, suspicious.
He slid lower in the spa, beneath hills of bubbly foam. Well, he thought, You (the Majority) assured Me (before I became a Torth) that I would never be called upon to harm My former companions. Due to an oversight, I have been obliged to harm two of the humans, but this great honor is not an oversight. As per Our agreement, I cannot harm the Giant.
The Commander of All and the Servants of All stared down at him with milky eyes. He sensed audiences roiling with contempt.
That was then, billions of Torth thundered.
and this is now,
We changed Our minds.
Trust was such a fleeting thing in the Torth Empire. Yellow Thomas reminded himself that it didn’t matter. His opinion was solo, inferior to that of many.
Do you reject this honor? The Commander of All Living Things watched him carefully, but she didn’t seem invested in his reply. The wishes and whims of the Torth Majority were law. If he refused, he would be declared a traitorous criminal and sentenced to death by torture. She merely lived to serve.
I am overwhelmed by the great honor which You have bestowed upon Me. Yellow Thomas bowed his head. I will devise a suitable execution for the Giant.
Billions of Torth minds frothed with approval. Yes (yes) YES. They replayed memories of the Giant savagely ripping apart Red Rank with his bare hands. No one had expected the Giant to move so quickly, with so much strength, after so many arena battles. And now, deep in the prison, Red Ranks conveyed images of the Giant in his filthy cell. Every line of his huge body conveyed guilt and self-loathing.
If the execution is interesting enough, then Yellow Thomas will deserve a promotion to Green Rank, many Torth suggested.
Yellow Thomas rested on the waterproof pillow of his spa. He gazed up at simulated clouds. I will be more creative in private, he suggested. Without an audience.
The Commander of All Living Things had begun to glide out of his range. She paused to scan his mind once more, although it was futile for her to glean much. The Majority pressed her, insisting that the super-genius should have a few minutes disconnected from everyone else. But for how long, exactly?
She studied him without malevolence. This visit and the upcoming execution were nothing personal, and meant very little to her. She was just doing her duty.
Three minutes, she decided. And make it something We can set up fast. The execution shall take place tomorrow.
She glided out of his range, and the Servants of All followed. Yellow Thomas waited until they had left his relaxation chamber. Then he cautiously slipped out of the Megacosm, with his internal timer ticking down each second.