2.4 The Offer

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Thomas could hardly take his gaze off his NAI-12 medicine case, plastered with bumper stickers from Earth. The lid featured a phoenix bird, rendered in silver and gold metallic markers by Cherise, to symbolize his triumph over death. It didn't belong with a Torth, and he wondered if there was any way he might win it back.

What a delectable mind. The Upward Governess inhaled his memories with the ruthlessness of a starving child at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Thomas tried to back away. He was never this greedy when soaking up other people's lives. Was he? Well, perhaps he absorbed this much from Cherise, but only because she welcomed it. Otherwise he would never . . .

Well. He supposed he had absorbed this amount from Margo, on occasion. And from Mrs. Hollander and everyone else who lived in the Hollander Home. And from the lead scientists at Rasa Biotech. The lab technicians, too. His neurologist. And his physical therapists, his former foster families, that slave, Gyatch, and perhaps a few hundred other people. It was just so easy to do. He would have to remember to be more restrained, in the future.

Why restrain yourself? The Upward Governess reached for a platter of what looked like sugary pastries offered by a slave. On Earth, she thought to Thomas, you were trapped among very small (primitive) minds, which severely constrained your growth. She nibbled on a pastry. Among Us (the Torth), you can reach your full potential.

Thomas tried to feel interested, but he had never needed more knowledge. Just the opposite. For most of his life, he had hidden his excess knowledge, trying to convince people to treat him like a human being.

You always suspected that you did not belong on Earth, the Upward Governess thought, digging through Thomas's memories like someone pawing through a jar of peanut butter to catch as much of it as would stick. Mm. Fascinating.

He supposed she had a point. He had always felt out-of-place, different from everyone else . . . but none of his fantasies involved owning slaves. In his imaginings, his birth parents were kind-hearted, even heroic. That was why he'd been stupidly eager to meet more mind readers.

I am human. Thomas trembled, hoping it was true. The Swift Killer looked like him, but that had to be a coincidence. His stomach twisted at the idea that she might be his birth mother.

!!! The Swift Killer spewed a reaction like mental vomit. I have never been pregnant (like a savage)! Torth do not reproduce in that (disgusting) way. As far as she was concerned, she would rather die than get pregnant or give birth. Her thoughts were lightning-fast, unencumbered by words, yet Thomas understood. Good. She wasn't his mother. And yet Torth must reproduce somehow . . .

In amniotic sacs, distant Torth minds sang. On baby farms.

And the Swift Killer seemed to hold a personal grudge against him, as if his very existence was a problem. She wasn't his mother, but she was . . .

From the same pedigree, distant Torth minds chorused to him.

Clones.

We terminated that pedigree, because

one of them went renegade

and birthed this feral child known as Thomas Hill.

Thomas sat still, but he inwardly reeled. This was worse than anything he'd imagined. He didn't come from a family, but from a breeding program. The Swift Killer and his mother were sister-clones, and what was he? Some kind of mistake that never should have been born?

The pedigree is flawed, many distant Torth minds agreed.

Too emotionally unstable.

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