2.9 Feral

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Emotions are a hindrance, millions of Torth thought in unison.

Emotions are a burden.

Emotions are the primitive flaw in slaves that separates them from Us. The silent symphony trailed off, swirling with expectation. They wanted to know what Thomas thought.

He forced himself to meet pitiless stares. He wasn't going to dare argue with countless millions of Torth, so he hesitantly agreed. Emotions are a flaw.

Ten imperious local Torth sat within his range of telepathy, surrounding him and weighing him with white gazes. Beyond them, several dozen "firsthand witnesses" sat beyond his range of telepathy, reclining on spacious risers so they could watch the Adulthood Exam. Slaves served them refreshments. He had ten official testers, but the judgment of millions of Torth was more important, and they were spread throughout the galaxy, all peering through local eyes.

A question wove together from the testers. Do you (child) agree that volatile emotions are a handicap?

Thomas supposed that he did. Depression could cripple an otherwise remarkable person, like Cherise. He had lived in enough group homes to be familiar with rage and grief, and all of their negative effects. Even positive emotions caused problems. Lust made people act like buffoons just to impress someone.

The testers approved. Awareness of this truth is wise. Their thoughts lapped together in colorful patterns without words. Wise, but insufficient. You must be capable of suppressing your own volatile emotions.

Their overlapping thoughts carried faint whiffs of mood. Thomas sensed mild disdain from some, and mild restlessness from others. Mild curiosity sparked here and there.

Subtle moods are not debilitating, they let him know.

Subtle moods do not interfere with rational thought,

and are therefore permissible.

The Torth reminded Thomas of Japanese Noh performers, who limited their emotional gestalt to a few symbolic gestures. He needed to limit himself in the same way. No more screaming fits of rage. No more tears. Surely he could manage it. Instead of thinking of it as a major personality change, he would approach it like an exam. Just another workday on his path to survival.

A slave slunk past him, offering a tray of beverages to the testers. Sorrow rippled from its mind. It had seen its best friend murdered today.

Thomas reminded himself to focus on his own problems. Of course coolheaded rationality was superior to a mercurial temperament. The slave knew that, or it would have screamed in rage and thrown hot soup into the faces of its masters. Everybody knew that emotions had to be suppressed. In stories, gurus and other calm, sage characters proved their superiority to hotheaded youths. The Torth were sort of like Spock, or Yoda, or Luke Skywalker, rejecting familial bonds and anger and fear. That seemed smart and healthy.

You are doing well so far, the testers thought. Now prove that you are capable of behaving in a civilized, rational manner.

The atrium began to morph into somewhere else, as if it was a changing dream. Golden vines supported lamps, but they faded away, becoming blood-stained metal walls. The aqua-green sky above vanished behind an oppressively low stone ceiling. Mold fuzzed the corners. It stank like a sewer.

A slow chill went through Thomas. He no longer saw the garden atrium, or the Torth, or anything else in the reality surrounding him. He shivered in air that wasn't cold or humid, yet felt cold and humid. He was trapped in a dimly lit dungeon.

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