3.13 Never Alone

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What do you think, Yellow Thomas?

Thousands of minds twined around his, while he forced himself to concentrate on his theoretical nucleosynthesis engine. His calculations were incomprehensible to everyone except for other super-geniuses. Such complex thoughts ought to drive down his audience numbers, but every time someone lost interest, another mind wandered into his mental scope.

Who sabotaged the inhibitor serum? many thousands of Torth minds whispered to each other. Most of them wanted Yellow Thomas to overhear, insinuating that he was probably the culprit.

It must have been a super-genius.

No one else can keep secrets from Us.

What super-genius would commit such a crime?

Yellow Thomas surreptitiously dialed up the setting of his tranquility mesh. He lounged on his gigantic bed, alone in his gigantic bedroom except for a slave, but he might as well be in an overcrowded stadium. The whole Torth Empire seemed to be scrutinizing him. Even the highest ranks, including the Commander of All Living Things, wove in and out of his inner audience. They wouldn't leave him alone. Ever since the Giant had manifested a power, they knew there was something wrong with local batches of the inhibitor serum, and they suspected that a local super-genius (Yellow Thomas) had altered one of the compounds necessary for its manufacture. Chemistry equipment couldn't detect the minor-yet-crucial difference, so the local prison warden now had to import the inhibitor serum from off-world factories.

It is unfortunate that We (the Torth Empire) must rush the Giant's death. The Commander of All Living Things pressed her spidery fingertips together. Everyone in her vast inner audience sensed that she was relaxing aboard her luxury high-speed starship, and they carried that impression to everyone in their audiences.

Yes, many billions of Torth agreed. The Giant must be killed ahead of schedule,

thanks to the unknown saboteur.

No more arena battles.

No more endangered Torth lives.

For a couple of seconds, the Commander of All shifted her entire focus to Yellow Thomas. She explored his weak lung capacity, and his weakly beating heart, as well as his thoughts. That was enough time for Yellow Thomas to gather that she was en route to the planet Umdalkdul, where he was. Nearly a million Red Ranks traveled along with her.

Won't you (Yellow Thomas) attend the Execution Ceremony? She queried.

He politely declined her offer of a reserved seat for him.

No one understood why a mere Yellow Rank would reject such an honor, and distant minds buzzed with suspicion, attracting an ever-larger audience. Millions of Torth demanded to know why Yellow Thomas refused to witness the death of the dangerous Giant. Why did he avoid the topic? Was he afraid? Was he flawed? Was he hiding illegal emotions? Was that why the Upward Governess had dumped him like garbage? Why hadn't he chosen a new mentor, anyway? Why did he lack ambition? What was wrong with him?

Yellow Thomas swiped his data tablet, adjusting an algorithm, and thought, I suppose I will attend. He reminded himself—and everyone in his audience—that the Giant deserved death. The Torth Empire should protect itself from such deadly monsters. That was fine. Yellow Thomas had no problem with that, and although he possessed the capacity to bury secrets within his mutant mind, true deception was only feasible in the impure languages of the tongue and of the body, and he was in the Megacosm, which meant that everyone ought to trust him.

Perhaps. Most Torth held onto their suspicions.

Oh, look, others whispered, as a local news feed played into the discussion.

Yellow Thomas's audience shared perceptions from a garden pathway in his neighborhood, where a group of determined-looking slaves marched. The figures were unmistakable, painful shards from his childhood, but for a millisecond, he dared to hope that he was mistaken. Seeing them clearly after so many months felt like a stab in the chest.

He focused on his work. He surely didn't care about (Cherise) (Margo) those slaves. Why were they walking towards his suite?

He assured himself that it didn't matter. Nothing mattered.

Those three experimental human slaves seem mentally unhinged, many Torth in his audience observed.

Possibly dangerous.

If one of them does anything illegal in the presence of Yellow Thomas,

he will have to use his blaster glove.

Of course. Killing defiant slaves was the duty of any Torth citizen. Yellow Thomas tapped his tablet, and blinked a drop of sweat out of his vision. Nothing mattered.

We (Torth) ought to enslave and colonize the planet Earth, much of his inner audience thought.

No, other Torth silently chorused. Humans are more valuable if they remain wild and free,

so We can study them in their native habitat.

We ought to snatch small populations and set up human breeding farms.

Yellow Thomas tried not to have an opinion on the popular debate, although his inner audience tugged at his attention.

Yellow Thomas doesn't like the idea of enslaving humankind.

Maybe he still thinks he is a human.

Yellow Thomas let his data tablet rest in his lap. It seemed grossly unfair to expect one person, even a super-genius, to decide the fate of billions of sentient people, along with their history, their art, their culture, and all their knowledge. It was too much. Like many Torth, he collected artifacts from conquered alien civilizations, and he wished he could know who had made those artifacts, and why. Too much knowledge got lost due to generations of enslavement. The Torth Empire was too rapacious in its conquests.

A whirlwind of counter-arguments arose. Humankind is beginning to pioneer a primitive form of the Megacosm.

They call it "the internet."

How long will We (Torth) allow them to strengthen their puny Megacosm?

We cannot tolerate any rival or threat.

That is how We survive,

and expand,

and thrive.

The loss of some primitive knowledge is an acceptable price for Our continuation.

Yellow Thomas realized that he was clenching his fists, as if his tranquility mesh was malfunctioning. He forced himself to stop, but he could imagine humankind after it was robbed of things like the internet, and bicycles, and television, and phones, and music. A second generation of enslaved humans would mythologize those things. Within a few generations of enslavement, humankind would become just another miserable slave species.

Nothing is worth trashing a civilization, he thought, not caring if his opinion was an extreme minority. Let them disagree. Knowledge is more valuable than slaves or cities.

He expected to get mentally crushed by an avalanche of suspicion and dismissive arguments. Instead, millions of Torth absorbed his opinion with quiet thoughtfulness. They struggled to find valid counter-arguments.

When the humans slaves entered the antechamber of Yellow Thomas's home suite, the debate about Earth dropped to a low priority. Yellow Thomas dialed his tranquility mesh to its maximum setting. A growing audience gathered in his mind, waiting to see how this unpredictable visitation would play out.

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