2.1 A Shifting Paradigm

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The Upward Governess faced an ivy-cloaked wall, squishing a jellied dessert in her hands. The squishing sensation felt good. Red jelly squirted around her pudgy fingers. She squished harder, wishing it was alive so she could kill it.

On one of the many levels of her psyche, she knew her rage was illegal. It was a crime worthy of execution.

But no one was watching. She lay in a hammock inside her private palace, at the top of her city, and none of her hundreds of slaves or bodyguards could see her face. She was below the Megacosm, and she would avoid her inner audience until her anger ran its course.

I handed the Betrayer and the Giant to the Empire, she thought. They'd been chained and inhibited, ready to be carted off to the Isolatorium. I had a foolproof plan.

Except a fool was in charge of executing it.

The wishy-washy Commander of All Living Things had let them escape into the black labyrinth of a ruined tower. Now they might be anywhere inside it. If they were fast, they might even be beyond the tower. If they were smart—and they would be, with the Betrayer among them—they would spread out into hiding places and set up traps.

She was so sick of being stuck at the rank of Indigo Blue. She really ought to be the Commander of All Living Things, but of course no super-genius would ever be promoted above the color ranks. As humans put it, she was pressed against a "glass ceiling."

Jelly stuck to her hands. In a sudden fit, she flung it off to splatter against the wall, marring the perfect leaves and flowers.

There must be a way to flip this disaster to her advantage.

The Betrayer was trapped within the cold, swampy ruins of the dead city, where millions of Servants of All practiced their combat techniques. Nuclear arsenals ringed the planet. The Upward Governess had chosen the Torth Homeworld as an ideal battleground in which to defeat the Giant, and that goal, at least, had been accomplished. The Giant was injured, with his powers disabled. He would be unable to protect the Betrayer and the runaways, at least for the next few days.

As the gears of her mind turned, her fists loosened. All was not lost. She sucked jelly off her fingers, waiting for the last trace of fury to vanish from her system.

She snap-beckoned to a slave to demand a sponge. It felt strange to be secretive around slaves; strange to aim her command at a dreamer, one of the boring slaves that was mute and uninterested in gossip. The Upward Governess had never needed to be quite so selective before.

Once the wall and vines were clean, she felt as if her mind was cleansed as well. Emotions were wrong. Volatile. She would keep her outburst hidden beneath mountains of trivial data and never think of it again. Embarrassing things must be buried.

Fully composed, she ascended into the Megacosm.

Lesser minds bowed to her massive one, but not as many as she was accustomed to. Puffs of discussion eddied in her wake.

There's the Failure.

She promised victory.

She ought to be demoted.

The Upward Governess kept her responses bottled up, ready to expel them, forcefully, when she confronted the bungling leadership of galactic civilization. If the Torth Majority was reduced to throwing blame at a child—at a dying, loyal super-genius—well. The Upward Governess rubbed her hands vigorously, feeling as if she'd just eaten her favorite dessert. She did her best to keep her smile out of her mind.

A day ago, she never would have dared to challenge the most powerful being in the universe. But now ... oh yes. Now was the time to strike, hard and fast.

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