2.15 Challenged

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Yellow Thomas slalomed around vine-shrouded pillars, impressed by his newfound agility. Staircases didn't exist in this city, and all the other obstacles that hindered wheelchairs—uneven ground, curbs, litter—were not a problem for his hoverchair. He could reach door panels. He could outpace a marathon runner. Best of all, the hoverchair needed no maintenance! Solar radiation and ambient heat gave it all the power it needed.

Among Torth, there was no such thing as disability. Three slaves traipsed after him: two ummins and a govki. No more waiting for caretakers to fetch things. With so much help and so much mobility, his quality of life was suddenly equal to that of any able-bodied person.

Yellow Ranks all own two personal slaves, his inner audience explained to him.

But due to the severity of your mutation,

you are entitled to own one extra.

Yellow Thomas navigated past dozens of slaves, all of whom belonged to the Upward Governess. As his audience continued to feed him information, he learned that his three starter slaves were randomly chosen. He was encouraged to swap them for his three of own personal choices. Not humans, though. He was too low in rank to claim exotic slaves, or any guard species, such as nussians.

The Upward Governess, in contrast, owned several exotic slaves, and dozens of loyal nussian bodyguards. Their pebbly, overlapping plates of skin could protect them from primitive weapons such as daggers or spears ... but Yellow Thomas sensed that they'd never faced violence. Slaves rarely dared to attack Torth or guards. Torth died from old age, from natural disasters, from vehicular accidents, but very rarely from violence. Bodyguards must be superfluous for a Torth to own, like hood ornaments on a luxury automobile.

Bodyguards are status symbols, the Upward Governess silently affirmed. My admirers (billions of Torth) insist that I own bodyguards, and I wouldn't want to displease My admirers. Her mental tone was light, like air bubbles. Bodyguards also ensure that My lesser slaves are industrious.

She floated down the boulevard, and Yellow Thomas floated by her side. They passed an indoor beach where naked Torth soaked up sunlight. The old version of Thomas would have been agog at the realistic simulation, like a gateway to another world. Now he barely noticed. Why care about local amusements when he could explore any place in the known universe, just by wishing to do so?

Each time he brushed through a mind in the Megacosm, he experienced everything about their body, everything they saw and heard and felt. On Earth, he had been limited by his range of telepathy. Now he understood how it felt to swim, to climb, to run, to ride a massive beast, to skim an ocean's surface on a watercraft. As long as he was connected to the Megacosm, he felt healthy and strong and free.

I feel powerful, he realized.

Other minds sparked with amusement. They'd been connected to the Megacosm since infancy, and it was weird to meet someone who hadn't been. Such a fledgling, they silently whispered to each other.

A growing number of minds in his mental background seemed to want something from him. What is your greatest ambition? they inquired, twining through his memories.

You can rise high, if you choose Me

(or Me) (or Me) (or Me!)

as your mentor.

Orange Ranks suggested that he would make an excellent slave trainer. Not only can you absorb a rudimentary language within minutes, they thought to him, but you also have well-developed vocal cords. Most Torth required years to master the slave tongue. Choose Me, and you will be promoted fast.

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