The Commander of All Living Things
Torth Book 1
Internet only Prologue
strode through the dimly lit terraces of a palace on the planet Bemelglurd.
Wind whipped rain against the massive whale-trees outside.
The trees moaned to each other, deep notes that vibrated the ground.
They shared more in common with animals than plants.
They'd even evolved brains.
According to biologists, they were semi-intelligent.
According to anthropologists, they were very intelligent.
But whale-trees couldn't move much, and they couldn't defend their planet against Torth colonization.
The whale-trees were probably moaning about their declining population; their shells made beautiful construction materials.
The Commander of All trailed Her hand over the iridescent balustrade.
It glowed faint green under the floating line of lamps.
She didn't know the whale-tree language, nor did She care to learn it.
The Torth Empire had specialists for that sort of thing.
, She mentally invited Her agents.
News reports from across the galaxy flooded Her.
The Mind Language allowed for instant and perfect communication; the reason why the Torth Empire was so successful.
The Commander of All existed in two places at once. Her physical body--the center of Herself--stood in the palace on Bemelglurd.
Most of Her mind, however, soaked in the Mind Language, a higher plane of existence, a network of pure thought that connected all Torth.
One of Her agents reported a slave rebellion on a distant space station.
The Commander of All jumped into the shared perceptions of Torth at that location, so She could see firsthand what had happened.
Indeed, several huge, armor-skinned nussians--slaves trained as bodyguards--had gone on an impulsive rampage, smashing their Torth owners to bloody pulp.
Two berserk slaves were killed, the rest shipped off to the Great Prison.
The Commander of All investigated the memories of eyewitnesses, checking to see if the Torth in charge had made any mistakes in handling the slaves.
Of course, they had. Nussian slaves had a threshold for emotional pain.
A nussian forced to kill its own mate or family could snap and go berserk.
This was common knowledge.
The owners had died for their stupid mistake.
The Commander of All issued an edict to all citizens of the Torth Empire--a reminder not to push nussian slaves past their emotional threshold--and moved on.
Across the galaxy, agents vied for Her attention.
An impending asteroid was forcing thousands of Torth to relocate their homes.
A megatsunami had wreaked havoc on another world.
Three hundred and twenty-eight Torth were dead, along with millions of slaves.
An isolated orbital station was suffering slave deaths due to harsh rationing measures.
The usual daily news.
The Commander of All Living Things listened to advisors on each matter, then absorbed the popular opinion of the Torth Majority.
Her role was to approve or veto planned courses of action.
A few personal agents walked with the Commander of All, but otherwise, the palace terrace was empty.
She adjusted Her mantle, the horned symbol of Her office.
It rested heavily upon Her bony shoulders.
Age had reduced Her from the physical marvel of athleticism that She had once been, although longevity treatments
kept Her well-preserved for Her one hundred and forty Earth-equivalent years.
The mantle was lighter than it looked.
A former Commander of All had installed hover magnets inside the horns.
Sometimes She wondered which of Her predecessors had initially found the mantle too heavy to wear.
One last news report rolled in.
Special agent reporting from Earth.
Instantly, the Commander of All focused Her attention on the special agent.
What have you learned about the target (Alexander Dovanack)?
The Commander of All did not feel excited--only an insane Torth would debase herself with emotions--yet Her heartbeat quickened just a little.
She had been a tiny bit worried that Her handful of agents on Earth would vanish.
Earth missions had a strange effect on Torth.
It was almost as if they felt the tug of their own primitive ancestry.
Humans were an inferior species ... yet they looked like Torth, and genetically, they were more closely related to Torth than any other living creatures.
There was no denying the science.
The Swift Killer emitted a vague impression of herself.
She reclined on a ratty piece of furniture, dressed in her human guise, complete with false blue eyes.
She provided a string of images.
A human boy. Not the target. Maybe ten or eleven, in human years.
Thin, dark blond hair. Hunched spine. He sat in a chair between two big wheels.
I found this (abomination),
the Swift Killer sent. His name is Thomas Hill. He's a mind reader.
The Commander of All Living Things abruptly felt weak from shock. She forced Herself to absorb the rest of the report.
His face is plastered all over news outlets,
the Swift Killer went on.
Apparently he invented some sort of medicine (a treatment) for his congenital illness.
He's a (biochemist) scientist. Perhaps a super-genius.
He isn't even trying to (follow the law) disguise his telepathy.
Every human close to him knows he can do it.
We haven't made contact with him (yet).
He thinks he's human.
He behaves like the primitives.
A gust of wind whipped the Commander of All's face as She leaned on the balustrade.
Forks of purple and blue lightning flickered on the distant horizon.
On Earth, the Swift Killer squinted from the same rain the Commander of All was experiencing on Bemelglurd.
A mind reader. A Torth child, raised by primitives, ignorant of his own heritage. How?
Torth were raised on baby farms.
Furthermore, no one could set foot on a forbidden world like Earth without the express permission of the Commander of All.
This child--with a name, like a slave!--had broken laws merely by existing.
There could only be one explanation for his illegal existence. A renegade Torth had gotten pregnant and given birth.
The Swift Killer confirmed Her logic.
He must be the offspring of the rogue agent (who went native eleven years ago).
He looks like her.
Distaste rolled off her thoughts.
Now it's clear that she managed to hide an even larger crime:
Bestiality with a human.
This "Thomas Hill" is only half-Torth; a disgusting (abomination) hybrid.
The Commander of All tapped Her finger on the balustrade.
She had to marvel at the sheer immensity of the secret the rogue agent had managed to keep.
Somehow, she had hidden nine months of pregnancy.
She had birthed like a breeder slave, a messy and painful alternative to amniotic sacs on baby farms.
Perhaps this explained why the rogue agent had gone insane so quickly under torture.
Insanity had cloaked the true extent of her crimes, allowing her to keep her secret unto death.
The Commander of All Living Things selected Her special agents more carefully, these days.
I request permission to kill the illegal spawn known as Thomas Hill,
the Swift Killer sent.
A strange request, that.
We (Torth) do not act on Our emotions,
the Commander of All reminded her.
We are logical, above emotional impulses.
Have you spent too long pretending to be human?
The Swift Killer straightened and shook her blond curls.
I await Your commands, Mighty One. I live to serve the Empire.
Report. What have you learned about the target?
An assessment of Alexander Dovanack flooded the Mind Language.
The Swift Killer had been unable to get close enough for a mind probe, due to the man's isolation,
but she'd managed to brush past three humans within his insular social circle.
Ironically, the hybrid (Thomas Hill) has befriended the hybrid (Alexander Dovanack).
We (the Torth) should destroy them both.
The Commander of All Living Things opened one of Her gloved hands, Her skeletal fingers stretching to catch raindrops.
True enough, they had two targets now. Two hybrids.
But anthropologists would want to wring every scrap of human knowledge from Thomas Hill.
The boy was probably as sterile as a mule and far more freakish ... yet he'd invented a medical treatment.
He might be a super-genius.
He'd grown up outside of regulation baby farms.
Who knew what strange diseases or powers he might have?
She opened Her other hand and extended a mental invitation.
This decision required the opinions of experts.
It required the Torth Majority.
High ranks flooded Her corner of the Mind Language.
Sociologists and anthropologists wanted to study the feral child.
Scientists clamored about the best ways to absorb his memories and dissect his body.
A super-genius weighed in, demanding details about his medical invention.
A growing contingent of Torth discussed allowing the hybrid to enter civilized society, as a social experiment.
We have no time for debates (committee decisions),
the Swift Killer sent.
Now that I've submitted My assessment, We ought to move swiftly, or We'll risk a fight with Alexander Dovanack.
I told You, he could prove very dangerous. He has the powers of his (hybrid) ancestor.
The Commander of All peered into the rainy night, listening to billions of varied opinions.
What to do?
The Swift Killer wanted to destroy both targets with a nuclear missile, then enslave humankind.
But she was just an agent, so she could afford to harbor an unpopular opinion.
The Commander of the most powerful Empire in the known universe could not afford to lose popular support.
She had to obey the Torth Majority.
That was Her overriding priority.
She listened until the tide of debate coalesced into a theme.
Then She selected the most popular decision.
Collect them both,
The Swift Killer sent an eddy of unseemly anxiety through the Mind Language.
I strongly suspect they are both dangerous.
Unease backwashed through her message.
The young hybrid (Thomas Hill) may prove as dangerous (or more so) than the target.
What else (do you have to tell Me)?
the Commander of All sent.
, the Swift Killer sent.
I must speak with You face to face (in private).
This was a disturbing request.
The Mind Language always involved an audience.
Private communication was rare, and valuable at the upper eschelons of Torth society.
I am on My way,
the Commander of All sent.
Take both targets alive. I will join you en route.
The Swift Killer bowed, giving off a whiff of reluctance.
She planned a course of action that involved killing any human witnesses.
Avoid human witnesses,
the Commander of All commanded.
Isolate the targets before you take them.
Humans still believed they were alone in the universe, and She had no wish to alter the status quo during Her reign.
The planet of origin ought to be preserved in its natural state for as long as possible.
The Torth Majority wished it to be so.
I may not be able to isolate the (abomination) hybrid (Thomas Hill),
the Swift Killer sent.
He is rarely unattended.
He invites his (close) friend, an adolescent human girl, everywhere--
The Commander of All had no patience for minutia.
She waved her hand.
(Then) Enslave any humans that get in your way.
We can always use them as experiments.
Just don't take a remarkable number.
The Torth Majority approved.
The Swift Killer winked out of the Mind Language to complete her mission.
An aftertaste of her belligerence lingered.
On Bemelglurd, a whale-tree moaned over the downpour.
The Commander of All would miss the peace here, on Her home planet.
She rarely found time to stay in one place for more than a day.
She strode towards the hover dock, Her boots spreading ripples that glowed across the floor.
Her slaves were already preparing a luxury streamship.
She would travel to Earth in a matter of days, traveling faster than the speed of light and skipping over thousands of light years of space.
Most of that travel time would be spent easing in and out of solar systems.
Torth astrophysists had yet to figure out how to engineer new temporal streams, but they'd absorbed existing streams from an extinct alien civilization.
Regrettably, those aliens had died in slavery after a mere four hundred years.
Some alien species simply didn't take well to being conquered by the Torth Empire.
She wondered if humans would make ideal slaves. Perhaps She would find out.
Alexander Dovanack was too human to pose much of a challenge ... yet he was a hybrid, too, and a true monster.
Once She stood over his corpse, She would be revered by future generations of Torth.
A noble cap to Her successful reign.