2.20 A Yellow Mind

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Yellow Thomas lay on an enormous bed strewn with furry blankets, inside a holographic galaxy so vast and realistically detailed, he felt in danger of falling into it. More than a hundred billions stars gleamed in the darkness above him.

If he wanted to explore any arm of the galactic spiral, he could twitch his finger on his data tablet, and he'd zoom in. He could do it again to zoom into any spur or whorl of an arm, or to examine a neighborhood of stars, or to take a closer look at a particular solar system. He could explore any known planet. But he did not. He merely gazed at the whole of the mapped galaxy.

He had turned on the population overlay, so the galaxy was webbed with glowing magenta. Space routes glowed faintly, and each colonized planet glowed according to how many Torth lived there. Verdantia, Mer Nerct, Yoft, and his current home, Umdalkdul, glowed the brightest, since each hosted a population of nearly twenty billion Torth. Countless others glowed with populations of more than five billion. Nuss, Tenth Ocean, the Arayan Moon Belt, the Noy Orbitals, Kemkorca, the Torth Homeworld . . . the list of hub planets went on and on. Trillions of Torth populated the galaxy. Slave populations were not shown, but there must be countless quintillions.

What hope did a lone disabled boy have against so much watchfulness and power?

He made a sound of frustration. A second later, he realized what a mistake that was, since his nearest slave, a plucky govki, paused in its cleaning activities to stare at him.

A sound of frustration was borderline illegal, just like talking in his sleep. If Yellow Thomas said anything, his Torth neighbors would suss out every syllable. They probed the minds of his slaves on a regular basis.

Since Yellow Thomas was physically dependent, he had no good excuse to send away his personal slaves. It was best not to give any strange commands. Torth society had no hidden murderers or terrorists, no hidden thieves or drug dealers or child molesters. No one fomented rebellion. No one acted upon lust. No one helped slaves, or disobeyed a single law. If the Torth Majority accused Yellow Thomas of a crime, then no one, not even the Upward Governess, would be able to save him from execution.

Only nine renegade Torth had ever evaded capture for longer than three days. All nine had severed their ties to the Megacosm and tried to blend in with the humans of Earth, with varying degrees of success. His mother had lasted for several months as a human before her clone sisters found her, seized her, and brought her to justice.

Don't think of her. Don't think of that.

Yellow Thomas forced away memories of his tortured-to-death mother, because he didn't dare look upset. He shouldn't think about how the Torth Majority would expend every resource in the known universe to hunt down a renegade. He needed to get better at burying his emotions.

His govki slave offered him a squeeze-bottle of water. Yellow Thomas sipped, careful to remain expressionless. He was expected to ascend into the Megacosm as soon as he woke up, which meant he was already overdue. It was dangerous to hesitate. But he would never solve the Problem (of Cherise and Margo and Lynn and Alex) once a bunch of Torth piled into his thoughts.

Earth was a dim spot on the galactic map, not laced with any magenta glow. Just an untamed wilderness. To the Torth Empire, human technology was not worth reaping, and human cities were full of braying beasts. Torth had been watching humankind since the ancient Egyptians built the Great Pyramids. They respected the assumed genetic link between Torth and "primitive" humans, so they protected Earth as a nature preserve, but ancient laws were being reevaluated these days. Even if he miraculously delivered the human slaves safely back to Earth without any Torth noticing . . . how long would Earth remain free?

These thoughts felt like juggling live ammunition. Dangerous. The Megacosm glowed just beyond his senses, as warm as a mother's loving embrace, as powerful as sunlight. It was strange, how much he wanted to rejoin (his people) that fantastic bustle of imagined sights and sounds and smells and sensations. He wanted it more than he wanted breakfast.

Yellow Thomas was fairly certain that he could hide a few private thoughts beneath torrents of data, so maybe he could keep a few secrets. His only obstacle was his mentor. The Upward Governess could detect a needle in a haystack after a few seconds of studying it. She could count every visible star in the galaxy after a glance.

His slave placed a breakfast tray within his reach. Yellow Thomas had his choice of gourmet foods.

Maybe he should go ahead and ascend while he was eating, and escape the unsolvable Problem for another day. In the Megacosm, he did not have to be a puny child dying from a neuromuscular disease. He didn't have to be someone who was helpless to save the people he cared about. He could join the mind of an athlete. He could swim through the silvery waves of an alien ocean, or bushwhack a trail through an alien jungle. He could stroll between the sapient trees of Bemelglurd and listen to them sing to each other like a pod of whales. And nobody could easily ignore him in the Megacosm. He was a mental giant there.

Yellow Thomas shoved aside a breakfast roll, furious at himself. Didn't he owe his life to certain people who were now enslaved and suffering? One person in particular had been a sanctuary for him. Only the worst sort of greedy monster would abandon that person (Cherise) to slavery and death.

He would never persuade the Majority of Torth to do what he wanted. It had been far easier to persuade foster parents and social workers to do the right thing.

Maybe a plan would occur to him once he had a better handle on how to navigate the Torth-owned universe. Maybe he needed to master Torth technology in order to solve the Problem. He needed to allay Torth suspicions, and prove himself to be trustworthy, so he could gain clout and more autonomy. Once he gained rank among the Torth, he would think of something. After all, he was a super-genius.

He took a bite of the delicious roll. Those who were counting on him (Cherise) (Margo) (Lynn) (Alex) would surely understand if he needed more than a few days to pull off an impossible feat (rescue).

For now, he needed to stuff away his emotions. Maybe he would try one of those soothing meshes that so many Torth wore.

Yellow Thomas felt at peace. In a calm, civilized state of mind, he ascended into the Megacosm.

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