Yellow Thomas sensed no triumph in his mentor. No kindness. No compassion. Her motives were hidden beneath torrents of data.
You may (eventually) figure out how to screen your private thoughts beneath data, little Yellow. The Upward Governess glided ahead, expecting him to keep up. It is a trick that super-geniuses can master. But it isn’t easy.
Yellow Thomas sped up his hoverchair. I appreciate Your help, he thought awkwardly.
I can help you in a great many ways. As she communicated this, she seemed to be … searching … for local traffic observations. Instead of choosing a busy thoroughfare, she led him down a meandering garden path that was practically devoid of people.
For instance… The Upward Governess sent a vivid mental image of (Cherise, Vy, Delia) the three humans wearing slave collars. I can get you exotic slaves. Would you like to exchange your default set for these?
!!! Yellow Thomas struggled to dampen his reaction. He had not anticipated a gift like this.
Oooh. His inner audience collectively fantasized about human slaves. So exotic.
Humans are lovely to look upon.
I can get them for you. The Upward Governess fanned statistics at him, implying that slaves survived longer if they had a lenient owner.
Yellow Thomas nearly agreed. It was plain that if he refused the gift, then his foster siblings might end up with a cruel, abusive owner instead of him.
But his imagination leaped into potential scenarios. He would have to force Cherise (no, her name is irrelevant) to sponge-bathe him. And help him go to the bathroom.
His heart began to pound, as if he was hovering near the crumbling edge of a cliff. He dared not examine his embarrassment.
Vy (no, her name is meaningless) had been his primary caretaker for years. She could do those things.
But somehow, slavery crossed a line.
If he silently crooked his fingers, forcing Cherise and Vy (no, they’re just primitives) to fluff his pillows and cook his meals, and never speaking, they wouldn’t understand. They would hate him.
Slaves are just animals, his orbiters chorused.
Animals do not need to understand.
They only need to obey.
Yellow Thomas had no desire to examine what he was feeling. Instead, he forced himself to study a kiosk along the path, with data marbles—storage devices—on display. Fascinating.
No thank You, he thought to his mentor. May I change My mind later?
Of course. The Upward Governess rested her hands on her stomach. Changing minds is a way of life for Torth (you need no permission). Let Us see how the mentorship goes, and We can revisit this offer.
The Torth Empire did not use money. Yellow Thomas realized that their currency must have something do with the differential between the ranks. He was already indebted to the Upward Governess. Was she showering him with gifts because she wanted him even more indebted?
Was she trying to buy his loyalty? Why?
She made a signal, and her entourage of slaves spread out behind them, leaving them alone to enjoy floral scents and sights.
Orb lamps glowed beneath umbrellas of waxy leaves. Iridescent gas bugs hovered above lily-like flowers. The old version of Thomas would have felt enchanted by this place, but the Megacosm had more impressive gardens, as well as forests, oceans, mountain ranges, and cosmic plains of enlightenment.
Emotions spiked above everything else. Intense emotions were hugely obvious in the Megacosm, like skyscrapers.
One of those spikes shot upward near a thread that Thomas was exploring, so close that he heard a phantom shriek. The foreign panic died, leaving a fading echo as the mind that had generated it vanished.
She had been an astronaut. Her spacesuit had depressurized unexpectedly, killing her.
Moments later, a spike of panic interrupted a discussion about neurochemistry that Yellow Thomas was tuned into. He left the discussion to investigate, and learned that the panic came from a little girl. The child had sympathized too deeply with her personal slave. She had tried to befriend it, and the headmistress found out, deemed her too flawed for adulthood, and shot her to death.
Yellow Thomas decided that he would henceforth avoid investigating emotional spikes in the Megacosm. He didn’t want to relive his Adulthood Exam in any way, shape, or form.
Next to him, the Upward Governess rolled out of the Megacosm.
She did it with casual ease, but the absence of such a huge mind could not go unnoticed. Her orbiters swarmed like mosquitoes that had just lost a colossal blood source.
Many of them flocked to the mind of Yellow Thomas. Since he still floated within range of her mind, he still sensed her thoughts, more colorful and complex than every flower in the garden.
The Upward Governess flashed a nanosecond of perception that emphasized the empty pathway ahead. Only a super-genius could have detected such a brief hint. Maybe she wanted to share something in private?
Yellow Thomas dropped out of the Megacosm, leaving his own mental audience to silently mumble and swarm.
Your life is in danger, the Upward Governess thought without a trace of preamble. The Commander of All Living Things wants you dead. Only I can protect you from Her, little Yellow.
Yellow Thomas eyed his mentor sideways.
As a legal citizen of the Torth Empire, no one could murder him, hurt him, or force him to do anything against his will. Not even the Commander of All Living Things. And anyway, he had done absolutely nothing to offend the elected ruler of the galaxy.
You haven’t figured out the loopholes? The Upward Governess sized him up from the corner of one blue eye, the same way he assessed her. Think about it. The Commander of All Living Things will manufacture a reason (an excuse) to revoke your citizenship and have you executed.
Yellow Thomas studied his mentor’s round face for a hint of deception, but of course, he didn’t see any.
Surely the elected ruler of the galaxy had more important concerns on her agenda than the fate of a disabled boy from Earth?
Many Torth want you dead. The Upward Governess emanated impatience at having to explain facts that seemed obvious to her. The Majority approves of you, and the minority is obligated to appease the Majority, but in private, the minority will maneuver to— She detected movement on the path ahead of them, and flipped into the Megacosm for a split second, long enough to check local traffic. Sure enough, a pair of Torth was approaching.
Imitate Me, she instructed Yellow Thomas. Then she ascended into the Megacosm and drifted aimlessly, absorbing trivial facts about the mating rituals of gas bugs.
The pair of Torth came into view, trailed by their slaves. They inclined their heads to the Upward Governess, their iridescent green eyes showing their rank. Two super-geniuses, they mused. Whatever can They be discussing in private?
Yellow Thomas struggled to eject all traces of the private conversation. He leaped into the mind of a navigator on a starship, and learned about wormholes known as temporal streams.
The pair of Green Ranks strolled past, bemused. If Yellow Thomas had been alone, they would have probed his mind for every detail, but they didn’t dare demand anything from an Indigo Blue Rank and her guest.
As soon as the pathway cleared, the Upward Governess dropped down to low-level telepathy, and Yellow Thomas followed suit.
Give Me everything I want, whenever I want it, the Upward Governess thought to him. And you may survive the next few weeks.
Yellow Thomas chewed his lower lip, trying to mask his doubts about the danger he was in. After all, the Swift Killer had failed to get him killed.
The Swift Killer is (an idiot) clumsy in her maneuvers, the Upward Governess thought. Expect subtle elegance from the Commander of All Living Things. One does not attain Her position without earning it. I have analyzed that woman, and she is dangerously crafty. Do not underestimate Her.
Yellow Thomas supposed that was plausible.
She (the Commander of All Living Things) took measures as soon as you seemed likely to pass the Adulthood Exam. The Upward Governess sent him an image of the golden cuff around his ankle. Her idea. You are not as free as the rest of Us.
Yellow Thomas thought of Ariock, wrapped in heavy chains and guarded by the equivalent of an army. The cuff did not seem so bad, in comparison.
I am sure your enemies (such as the Commander, and the Swift Killer) would be gleeful if you have the cuff removed, the Upward Governess thought. That’s why they made it easy to take off. Make one misstep and the Commander will leap upon you like pisanvi on a bloody carcass.
Pisanvi were hairy creatures with massive jaws that could unhinge, known for chomping through garbage with their serrated teeth.
Yellow Thomas could imagine a tracker on the cuff, like he was a prisoner on parole. Now, as he thought further, he realized that certain Torth—such as those who orbited the Commander—would wait for him to slip up.
The Majority had told him to never remove the cuff. His enemies among the minority voters would wait for him to do just that. Or they would wait for him to show sympathies for slaves.
In fact, they might even try to trick him into slipping up.
They might do it to curry favor with the Commander of All Living Things.
Exactly. The Upward Governess glowed with approval. You do see the danger.
Yellow Thomas tamped down an illegal burst of frustration. What did I do to make such enemies?
The Upward Governess wound between thick hedges, through a path so narrow that no one else would be able to squeeze past their hoverchairs. It is a great honor, to be elected to the office of Commander of All Living Things, she thought, but it is also a great responsibility. The One who holds that title cannot afford to make a mistake. If She errs, then the Majority will sentence Her to death by torture, and elect a new Commander of All Living Things.
Yellow Thomas thought that sounded like a dangerous job.
Torth who vie for lofty ranks are risk-takers, the Upward Governess silently admitted. Our current Commander of All enjoys rocketing above volcanic eruptions with a jetpack. She is a thrill-seeker, which is why She always has a large audience in Her mind. She has earned more clout than anyone else in the known universe. She could have swayed the Majority to block you from taking the Adulthood Exam. Instead, She did not bother to participate in that vote. She allowed Me to take the lead there. I am sure She regrets that, now.
Why? Yellow Thomas wondered.
She (wrongly) assumed that you would fail the Adulthood Exam and die. That was an error in Her judgment.
It didn’t seem like much of an error, to Yellow Thomas. More like a forgivable potential lapse.
Forgiveness is a slave concept, the Upward Governess pointed out. The public has not noticed Her error. They may never notice—but they will, if you (become a criminal) free slaves or wreak havoc. If that happens, then the Torth Majority will blame Our Commander of All and sentence Her to a horrible death. She is trying to preclude that possibility. It is in Her best interest to have you killed on a pretext, based on some technicality, before you can do anything that makes Her look incompetent.
Yellow Thomas studied his mentor. Do You believe I would go around freeing slaves and wreaking havoc?
She floated past fragrant flowers, untroubled. The odds are low. You are too ambitious to throw your life away.
Criminal behavior was suicide, in the Torth Empire. There were no secrets. No privacy. Everything with eyes was a potential spy. Any Torth could riffle through the memories of any slave or animal. Any Torth could peer through the eyes of any other Torth, or a nearby person.
Criminals rarely survived for more than a few minutes, unless they exiled themselves from the Megacosm. Even if they severed themselves and ran away to Earth or some other wilderness preserve—they rarely succeeded in hiding for longer than a few days.
The Majority owned everything. The Majority was everywhere.
Yellow Thomas surveyed the garden, uneasy. A small animal, like a chipmunk, watched them pass by.
The Upward Governess gave him a look that was almost like amusement. Indeed, any random Torth could delve into the mind of that animal and analyze its perceptual memories. They were not in private. They were trackable.
Aren’t We having a private conversation right now? Yellow Thomas wondered.
Not really. The Upward Governess seemed to regard him with pity, as if he was an ineffectual baby. High ranks are allowed to probe the minds of low ranks.
Yellow was the lowest rank, except for childhood. Anyone except for children would be allowed to probe his mind.
We are fortunate to be super-geniuses, the Upward Governess let him know. Our minds are so vast, we can slide small secrets beneath multiple layers of data, even during a mind probe. You might be able to hide this conversation. Or you might not.
And You? he wondered.
Oh, I can hide it, she affirmed. A very high percentage of Torth respect and trust Me. I worked hard to earn their respect and trust. Only Servants of All would dare to probe My mind, and they had better have a good reason to do so.
She contrasted that with all the mistrust surrounding Yellow Thomas.
A Torth strolled into view, and the Upward Governess mentally vaulted into the Megacosm. She shed her thoughts for an entirely different topic, inviting her mental audience to ask her anything about plasmic polymer building materials.
Yellow Thomas emulated her.
He did his best to sweep his concerns underneath his general curiosity, drinking in facts about the science of nucleosynthesis. Hundreds of other minds nestled up to his, interested in everything he felt and thought and saw, eager to share everything they knew about the topic he’d shown interest in.
The strolling Torth left their range. The Upward Governess immediately dropped out of the Megacosm.
Yellow Thomas hesitated to rejoin her. Facts were soothing. Conversing with his mentor was less than soothing.
She mentally poked him, and reluctant, he dropped down.
You want something from Me, he guessed with resignation.
She tapped her fingers on her armrests, pleased that they had finally worked up to a subject that interested her. Yes.
He attempted to tally up how much he might owe her for her protection.
All I want, she thought, is private time with you whenever I wish for it.
He had expected worse. She could have dumped her workload on him. Could she have stolen credit for everything he achieved?
How could I do that? She glided to a stop in a cul-de-sac. Torth cannot lie to each other, or steal from each other.
Yellow Thomas suppressed his quibbles.
The Upward Governess regarded him with curiosity. You have a unique outlook (I would like to learn more about it). Her mind churned like a nuclear reactor, screening her opinions. But you must understand, little Yellow, that it is in your best interest to give Me whatever I want, whenever I want it.
He was beholden to her. For now.
She examined his mind, probing his secrets. And she added a warning. Never threaten Me. Never attempt to manipulate Me. Someday, you may be tempted to do so. Let Me be clear, little Yellow. If you ever threaten Me (intentionally or not), expect to die.
With that, she allowed him a glimpse into the depths of her own mind. Yellow Thomas sensed that billions of Torth would be eager to do her bidding. Even the Commander of All Living Things was careful to keep this particular super-genius satisfied.
You are a Torth for as long as you live. The Upward Governess floated to an ivy-covered wall. There is no escape. Nor can you escape your debt to Me.
She tapped a tablet near her hand. A doorway appeared in the wall, and she silently implied that he should enter the refurbished suite which now belonged exclusively to him.
Yellow Thomas floated into the antechamber.
His jaw dropped. He had to force down a welling of disbelieving awe. This is amazing!
Mist wafted between steep, verdant mountain slopes.
Clouds billowed across the domed ceiling, tinged with pink fire from a sunset.
Water trickled over a fountain, its edges morphing in a pre-programmed routine of fanciful sculptures. Water spilled into a heated hot tub set in the floor.
The empty shelves were like gigantic seashells. They waited to be filled with whatever he desired.
There was whimsy and wonder in every inch of the oval antechamber, which could have housed the entirety of the Hollander Home. It was his most self-indulgent dreams come true. Part of him already lived here, had always lived here.
I humored your idiosyncratic acrophobia, the Upward Governess let him know, and programmed your suite with ground-level window displays.
Yellow Thomas explored the room, still agape. Four additional rooms split off from the antechamber. One was a laboratory with holographic workstations, ready to run scientific simulations. Another room had terrariums for a private zoo. Another was outfitted for chemical experiments. The bedroom was fit for an emperor.
I fussed a bit, the Upward Governess admitted. But you are, after all, the only super-genius I’ve met in person (aside from Myself).
Yellow Thomas rotated his hoverchair, awestruck. Inside this quiet suite, he could pretend that the whole galactic empire was an illusion.
He wondered what Cherise was going through.
(Nope) He immediately shoved that (dangerous) unimportant thought away. He wasn’t going to risk thinking about (human-related) pointless topics where an astute mind reader—his mentor—could overhear his thoughts.
Perhaps he was just worried about loneliness? All of this luxurious spaciousness made him feel more like an orphan than ever.
I’ve never lived alone, he admitted. I never imagined I could. This is so much room.
Smaller quarters can be arranged. The Upward Governess floated closer. Now. First of all, give Me every memory you have ever absorbed from your human foster family.