1.3 A Threat to the Torth

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Thomas fiddled with the handle of his medicine case, as if hoping it would do the explaining for him. "I didn't want to tell you. But I think it would be more dangerous not to."

Alex concealed his impatience. "I'm listening."

"Okay," Thomas said. "First, you need to understand that the Torth have a wide variety of genetic mutations. They're not all physical." He gave Alex a significant look. "A lot of mutations have to do with the mind."

Everyone else looked impatient, no doubt wondering why Thomas was talking about science. It sounded like a non sequitur. But Alex had seen that look, and Thomas might as well have pointed to his overgrown body.

"The weirdest genetic mutant I've ever seen." That was what the doctor in Boston had said, tapping Alex's X-rays and discussing them with his mother. "Look at how dense his bones are. There's no acromegaly or any sign of frailty. Your son is healthy. We could try to zap his pituitary, but that's invasive neurosurgery, and I'm sorry, but it's not the cause. I'm astounded to say that he's a natural giant. At his rate of growth, he'll be over nine feet tall by the time he's an adult, and there's nothing anyone can do. I can't tell you when, or if, he'll ever stop growing."

Alex had prayed ferociously every night after that. He'd begged any god that might listen for a way to reverse his mutation. He used to stand in snow-drifts on his balcony, gazing up at the stars, silently offering to trade all of his wealth for a chance to stop growing and live a somewhat normal life. He wanted to have friends.

When he began to bump into door-frames and chandeliers, he quit torturing himself with the hope that a god would take pity on him. No one up there was listening.

Thomas went on. "The Torth outlawed certain dangerous mutations."

"What does any of this have to do with Alex?" His mother's tone was frosty.

"I think you can guess." Thomas gave her a challenging look.

Alex had always suspected that there was something monstrous about himself, but he'd never guessed that it was purely genetic, that he might be related to actual monsters. He couldn't imagine anyone in his family history as slave-owning telepaths.

"Alex is not related to any Torth." His mother kicked water, as if she wanted to kick Thomas.

"He has an obvious Torth mutation," Thomas said. "His type of gigantism isn't unheard of, especially on the heavy-G planets. And that's not the only Torth mutation he inherited."

"You're lying," his mother said fiercely. "I know the genealogy of my family, and of my husband's family, and—"

"Garrett lied to you." Thomas sounded annoyed.

She looked stunned.

"He gave you false family stories and doctored photographs," Thomas said. "He told you that his parents were farmers from Iowa. In reality, his father was a renegade Torth, and his mother may have been, as well. Garrett was a mind reader. I'm sure that lying to humans was a piece of cake for him."

Alex felt a sneaky sense of relief, although his mother looked as if her worldview was falling apart. At least he had something to blame, other than random bad luck. His gigantism came from the Torth.

"That's impossible." His mother looked offended. "Garrett was the sweetest old man anyone ever knew. There wasn't a mean bone in his body. There's no way he could have been the monster you're claiming he was."

"I didn't say he was a monster." Thomas had a dangerous glint in his eyes. "I said he was a mind reader."

Alex tried to reconcile what he knew about his great-grandfather with what he knew about the Torth. Garrett Olmstead Dovanack was supposedly a man of integrity and charisma, a war hero, a philanthropist, and highly praised by everyone who had ever known him. He'd raised his grandson, Alex's father, after one parent committed suicide and the other parent turned to alcoholism. The family had lots of dysfunction, but Garrett had been a pillar of love who held them all together.

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