1.9 Savagery

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Industrial complexes floated in outer space, like oil refineries the size of moons. Thomas could study them through porthole windows in the hexagonal corridor. Is that a real view? he silently asked the three Torth. Are you capable of faster-than-light space travel?

None of the Torth replied. Perhaps they never explained anything, since they were connected to the collective knowledge of millions—or billions?—of minds.

Trillions, a distant mob echoed.

Thomas stared at the back of the Swift Killer's head, realizing that her inner audience had heard his unspoken thoughts, and they'd offered him a tidbit of information. At least some Torth wanted to educate him.

Also, more distant minds explained, noise is rude.

He became aware of the subtle hum of his wheelchair. Quiet to him, but it grated on the ears of the Swift Killer and her two cohorts. They were used to silence. Apparently Torth and their slaves did not speak out loud or listen to music.

Wow. Thomas played with his steering toggle, swerving back and forth to make more noise. Show me how to join your network of minds, and I'll quiet down.

The Swift Killer twiddled her fingers. Thomas had absorbed command gestures for slaves, so he recognized what this meant. Sure enough, Gyatch began to push his wheelchair, rearing on its hind legs so it could use its two upper pairs of arms. Thomas stopped swerving. He didn't want to cause any more trouble for the slave.

Why do you even have slaves? he silently asked the Torth. Why do you treat your slaves so poorly?

He sensed a vibe that slaves were disposable, that slaves were easy to breed and to replace. He tried to learn reasons, but the distant Torth seemed to lose interest in explaining their reasons. Instead, they silently discussed Thomas.

No mind reader should wallow in such terrible ignorance. Invitations flashed, like sunlight on the surface of an ocean.

Now that We know about this deprived orphan,

We wish to share Our minds with him.

Come.

It is so easy to ascend.

Other minds crisscrossed those invitations, like sharks jumping out of the waves. No, these sang.

I, for one, do not want his savage thoughts tainting My mind.

Me neither.

Keep him away.

He's feral.

Raised by beasts (humans).

Too savagely emotional for civilized society.

It seemed that millions of strangers, whom Thomas had never met, wanted to reject him.

Well, maybe he didn't want to join them, either. The Torth all seemed to get along a bit too well, and to jump to conclusions a bit too fast. Maybe he should just start begging to get sent home.

The Swift Killer glanced at him with her empty, milk-white gaze. Just a casual glance . . . but Thomas sensed that she was an enforcer of laws. She helped to ensure that the Torth Majority—the great masses of the Torth Empire—got whatever they collectively wanted. And she was utterly certain that Thomas wasn't going home. Either he would join the Torth, or he would die.

The debate between distant minds continued to sing silently. He should join Us.

No. He should die.

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