Yellow Thomas had been prepared for deadly violence. He’d been prepared for the possibility of something going wrong, and for condemnation. He’d half-expected to be forced to follow the Giant into death.
What he had not been prepared for was another test of his emotions. The Commander of All Living Things had forced him into a situation that (almost wrecked him) shouldn’t have affected him at all.
Prison guards chained the Giant to the steel cross, binding him to the instrument that Yellow Thomas had designed for a very prolonged death.
Many Torth silently congratulated him for his ingenuity. Such a strange form of torturous death, they thought.
Wondrous and primitive.
You deserve a promotion, Yellow Thomas.
The Commander of All Living Things regarded him without turning her head away from the Giant. We shall consider promoting you to Chartreuse Yellow, she decided.
That was generous. Yellow Thomas floated backwards, trying not to reveal any hint of ingratitude, trying to think of anything other than (Ariock) the Giant and (Vy and Cherise) slaves. He ought to feel nothing except for mild pride. Perhaps a bit of impatience. Soon the huge amphitheater would begin to empty, and he wanted to (avoid the Commander of All) get a head start before the crowds, because the sun’s heat was hard on his fragile health. If he lingered, he might get sunstroke (or snap into uncontrollable rage). Rage, grief, or shame would give the Commander a perfect excuse to sentence him to death.
That was why she had commanded Yellow Thomas to invite the Giant to speak last words. She had added it as an afterthought, as if it had just occurred to her, but she’d timed it for maximum effect, with trillions of Torth throughout the Empire paying attention. Her mild suggestion had whipped up a titanic chorus that no one, not even she, could defy. The Torth Majority demanded to hear the primitive rite of last words. So, with everyone watching, Yellow Thomas had no choice but to confront whatever Ariock might say to him.
“I forgive you, Thomas.”
He had expected pain and rage. But instead, he had sensed only goodwill from Ariock; a silent wish that Thomas would survive and thrive as a Torth, as guilt-free as possible. Ariock hadn’t seen a cruel master. He had seen a friend. With the simplicity of an animal, he had assumed that Thomas was nothing but a helpless child under duress.
A fellow prisoner.
That was ridiculous, of course. Yellow Thomas was a rising star in the Torth Empire. He floated past dozens of richly-dressed Torth, and his slaves trotted behind him like a couple of loyal dogs. He felt nothing except for some nausea from the desert heat.
Yellow Thomas, local Torth sang to him in the Megacosm, their thoughts overlapping with eagerness. We would like you to join Us for a lounge party tonight.
Yes, do come and join Us.
Our slaves are preparing a feast with cuisine from your homeland.
The heat seemed to be roasting his insides. Yellow Thomas politely declined all of the invitations, wishing only to go home and nap. Perhaps he would join a party on a future day.
The Commander of All Living Things spidered through his thoughts, touching each of his mild emotions and crawling through his intentions.
You have proven your loyalty to the Empire, she decided. Upon the morrow, We shall elevate you to Chartreuse Yellow.
His audience swelled with approval. Hooray!
As if planning a crucifixion was praiseworthy. A thug could have done just as well.
Yellow Thomas tried to agree with their praise, sweat rolling down his face. He’d only had a few minutes of private time in which to plan. He had imagined hundreds of scenarios and extrapolated likely outcomes for each one. Although he had done his best, he certainly did not deserve praise or forgiveness.
The local news feed inside his mind showed the Giant dragged by prison guards, with the cross chained to his back. His armored outfit and the steel contraption gleamed, chrome and silver. All that metal would be his burial shroud. They would leave him on the tallest ridge beneath the merciless sun, wrapped in chains. No nails or screws, because bloodshed would make the death (certain) too quick. Such a monstrous threat deserved a painful death. As a Yeresunsa, the Giant was just as bad as a renegade traitor, just like the woman who had given birth to Yellow Thomas (no) (that’s not worth the risk of thinking about).
Yellow Thomas boarded a hovercart so he could return to his suite in the city. He did his best not to think about slaves, or deaths, or (escape) anything at all.