3.16 An Other Mind Reader

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Drip, drip. Drip.

Vision was useless to Thomas in utter darkness. Every echoing drip was so familiar, he could envision the fluid dynamics of every distant stalactite. His ears were attuned to the slightest whisper. He would hear the distant footfalls of his jailers if they deigned to approach.

But he estimated that their next visit was seven hours away, with an hour and thirty-eight minute margin of error.

His nameless mother awaited him across the veil that separated life from death. She welcomed him with a shredded throat and open, bleeding arms. Join me, son, she urged without a voice, and without a living mind.

He told himself that she was capable of love, despite being a Torth. Soon he would feel her love. All he needed to do was die.

And, of course, he needed to prove that he was worthy of her love. His mother had made immense sacrifices to give Thomas freedom. He must honor her sacrifices by doing the same; by avoiding the Megacosm, so that Cherise and Alex would be safe, wherever they were. He needed to remain alone until the end of his life.

To stave off the unending, gnawing, siren song of twenty trillion minds, Thomas continuously struggled to keep his mind occupied. He did everything he could to distract himself. Weeks, days, hours, minutes, seconds, microseconds ... the ticks and tocks blurred to meaningless numbers. Thomas averaged the time between service visits from his unknown jailers. He multiplied that number by the sum total of echoing drips during an interval. The number of days between visits from Kessa produced another number. He collected numbers and made pointless equations with them.

Every third visit included Kessa or Margo. Clicking toenails or a strange thumping gait. Margo had lost her leg, and replaced it with what sounded like an ivory-carved peg, instead of a more useful prosthetic. Thomas could draw a lot of conclusions from that hypothesis.

Unless ... maybe the visitors weren't his friends. The jailers blindfolded him during visits, so maybe the voices that sounded like Kessa or Margo were mere imitations. The fact that Cherise never visited might actually be a good thing.

Thomas had tried talking to them. He had responded to Kessa and Margo with pleas for help. He'd even tried threats. Nothing worked.

So nowadays, he no longer responded to their "concern." He had better things to do.

Like wait.

Thomas ignored the blacksmith's puzzles. Neither flipper blocks nor interlocked rings could be dismantled and used for suicide, so they were useless to him. 

The sketch materials held a lot more promise. 

The jailers had left a few flimsy scraps of canvas on the filthy floor for Thomas to find, plus a soap-like charcoal stone. Crude materials. Thomas had etched and sketched like a madman, although he was weaker than an infant. The unseen jailers did force him to eat and drink, to stay alive, but they'd grown lax, and he was skeletal. 

Drawing must look like progress. The jailers must be pleased to see him engaged in an activity, after he'd done nothing but sit for two months. Indeed, they had removed his finished masterpieces, and replaced them with a few more canvas scraps. 

Thomas still had the whittled-down charcoal stone.

It wasn't much. The stone piece was more brittle and breakable than metal or glass, which he had none of. But unlike the slime and mold in his dungeon pit, it could be sharpened.

Thomas rolled the charcoal back and forth across stones, sculpting it to a point. The faint scraping added something new to the monotonous, ambient dripping.

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