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Copyright © 2015 by Ant Ryan
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Cover & Internal Illustration Copyright © 2015 by Ant Ryan
Sky-dragons fly high, filling humans with fright,
The Scient all-knowing and kept out of sight,
The Potent have Power, yet prevented from height,
The Present transport through space and time,
The gods are kind, but punish all crime,
My Trial is coming; I must impress them with flight,
Celestial Spheres balance the dark with the light.
Every time I manage to use my powers, nobody looks. They stare through me. But when I fail, they all notice.
“He’s only a young boy,” they say. “Who cares about a novice Potent like him? We’re god-like compared to him!”
Will they notice me at noon, when I’m examined for my flying ability during the Adolescent Trials? I hope so.
I put on my black sky-suit, which will prevent forbidden use of technology during the test.
Waving goodbye to mother, I take one small step on the long road from breast toward adulthood. A path set from birth for my kind. Leaving our single roomed cave-hut, I walk along the dusty track to school. Fresh air mixes with pungent fog from the ore-mines. I may need a respirator if it gets much worse.
Walking is inefficient. I pity my human cousins for relying on it. I dream of the day I can drift with elegance through clouds, up to the starry sky above. I wish we were allowed to explore further into the Universe, beyond our Celestial Spheres. But today is a start, today I can show my potential to the teachers, so that I may be certified to fly the lower skies unchaperoned.
The fog clears as I arrive at the tall crystalline building which pierces the uneven stony ground, surrounded by the burning spices of ceremonial fires. My examiners greet me. A group of about ten teachers from another school, in crisp red judge’s gowns – seasoned warriors passing on their ancient skills, their formality is intimidating, but predictable.
Practice at school and holographic simulations at home as part of my initial training, taught me what to expect. But as I stand on the triangular marker and look at these experienced faces, all that practice and confidence evaporates. After all these years waiting, am I really doing this? I have the audience I had always wanted but it frightens me.
Distant stringed music, that would sooth under other circumstances, distracts my mind; I must focus. But the more I try to ignore the gentle tones, the harder they penetrate into my head.
“Ready young one?” a vibrant, dark skinned Potent Lady says.
I nearly jump in shock. This feels rushed now.
“Show us that you are controlled and capable. Whether you are ready to progress to full training? Now fly!”
Heat from the binary stars makes sweat run down my brow.
Teeth gritted, I squeeze my hands, tightening the muscles in my arms. The last time I tried, I fell in an instant.
Standing tall, I hold my chest up, shoulders back. Lifting my knees toward my stomach, my body holds – feet aloft, I hover above the ground. Excitement of the occasion fuels me. I smell optimism in the air, my own, perhaps my audience’s too. I hope they are pleased. One more squeeze and I should move upward. I feel so proud, particularly with them watching.
“Pitiful boy,” a large, male Grand Potent shouts. “You look like a bone sack, with your ugly-looking, pale, dumb face. I could miss eating for a year and still be larger than ten of you. Fall on your ass, weak child.”
I feel myself drop, though I’m unsure whether it’s because he is using Potency or just the discouraging words distracting me. I must stop the descent.
Closing my eyes to concentrate as I near the hard floor; every cell in my body wills me to rise. I slow, but continue downward, giving the ground a gentle brush with my bare feet. Relief is replaced by rage that builds inside me, as I process these antagonising words. I will show him.
Shaking in anger, my flight begins once more. I climb faster, feeling stronger the higher I go; above my standing height and greater still, higher than our cave-hut. I soar further, above the ten storey school building. I’ve never been this high before; even without an audience. I leave the group of Potent judges far below me on the war-damaged Sphere. They become tiny dots and vanish as I ascend. The rugged landscape dotted with the rich’s symmetric buildings, like gems amongst the poor’s globular huts, similar to ore from the mines.
I ride the air like it is a wave. At this rate I’ll soon leave our atmosphere. Not a good idea for one who hasn’t learned the full capabilities of our race. I slow my ascent and enjoy my moment, controlling my movements like a sky-dragon might. Maybe I will finally see one of the rare beasts up here.
Long gone is my need for a child’s floatation device. One day I may be all powerful, like any Potent can be, but what use is Potency. There must be more to life than flying, moving heavy objects and performing miracles for others. I may have all that power, but never attain the Scient people’s knowledge of all? I want that. With their ability too, I could learn how to use our power in ways our people can’t even imagine; ironic that those poor souls can barely run, let alone fly. Like us, they’re stuck on these few planets. It seems odd that the gods, Universe or whatever it is, give the three species one wonderful skill each, and not allow overlap, cruelly flaunting the unreachable other two wonders before our eyes.
The Present are the people who have ability to be free to leave our part of the galaxy; able to go anywhere. Their skills I would need, if I have any hope to explore the entire cosmos one day. Of course, they’d be pretty limited once they are out there. What use is travelling if you’ve no real power or knowledge?
Here and now though, I feel unlimited. I’m as free as a bird, the happiest most fulfilled I have been for as long as I can remember. Nothing can stop me.
But with a flash of light, the same Grand Potent who insulted me earlier appears by my side. “Slow down, boy. You have proven yourself. Your powers work. You’re not supposed to go this high, just display control.”
Obviously! “I am in control, but I want more. I want all the skills. I want Knowledge and Presence too.”
“Words like that lead to war and upset the gods, boy.” He grinds his teeth. “We are finally at peace. Not so much as a crossed word with our neighbours in years.”
We slow down to a steady hover. He grabs me by the neck.
As I notice the pain of his heavy-handedness, we’re back on the ground, next to the other adults. Did we fly or was it instant? I can’t tell. It was so fast. I think I felt air rush past me at speed. Potent powers are subtle when you’re on the receiving end.
“One such as you could spell trouble for our existence,” he says. “If the Scient get wind of your sort emerging again, they could form an alliance with the Present to match our power. They would wreak havoc on us before we knew it.” He has concern in his eyes. “Your ambition is genuine and passionate, but too much passion – wanting extra skills, that can be dangerous in our society. This cannot be tolerated.”
“My sort?” I can kind of understand why a teacher would discourage my desire for other skills. At least he thinks I’m passionate, but I shouldn’t have opened my big mouth. With his numerous skin markings I assume he is quite religious, just my luck to get a relic of the wars as a judge. He must think I want to be an actual god, the only ones said to hold all the abilities; yet they are never seen. I don’t want to be a god, I want to walk tall among others, not hide from those below me. At least I have made myself noticed today, my displayed power must have impressed the teachers? That’s the whole point. Without power we’d be just like humans. Without the darker skin tones and better clothing I wouldn’t know the difference between the three able species and the backward humans. So, I’m sure that flying so high, so quickly, where even a master had to physically ground me was a decent display of Potent ability.
Next I should learn how to make others disappear. A certain Grand Potent might be first on my list.
“You yearn to explore the Universe and know more, boy?” He interrupts my fantasy. Volume rising. “You want to see what can happen when all three powers combine and we act like gods? So be it.” He joins hands with the two nearest to him. I didn’t notice earlier, but one looks like a female Scient… Is the other a male Present?
I’m in trouble. I feel strange warmth inside me and a sudden tiredness.
My vision blurs and as I refocus I feel wide awake. A dusty grey soil is beneath me, but I can’t feel the texture against my bare feet. Am I in a synth-skin spacesuit? Have they used that male Present’s ability to send me to the barren and airless moon of the Deserted Sphere? If gods do exist, they are said to dwell here and would surely punish me for my so called over-ambition? Such deities are just a Scient invention to control humans, Present and Potent, I think.
It isn’t a god, but this spacesuit that is keeping me alive. Yes, I can see the black sleeve of my sky-suit. I used a similar invisible respirator-suit to this when training for the Trials. They’re clever pieces of technology, without which I wouldn’t survive a moment out here. There is no atmosphere, only blackness of space and our yellow star reflecting against the desolation of grey dust.
The Potent can’t break their own rules and leave me for dead. They must be teaching me a lesson, that’s all. How long will this lesson last?
While I’m here, I might as well explore – I can’t let them see any fear in me. I take a step, but as I lean, my whole body leaps further than I anticipate, diving forward with little resistance. Not like when I use my flying ability, more like a feather.
I feel either extremely light or very strong, an unfamiliar sensation. There must be less gravity here; flying should not be a problem. I try to control my direction with my powers, but nothing happens. I have to do it manually with inelegant arm and leg movements, like a new-born Potent or a human. Perhaps the teachers are inhibiting my ability; maybe it is part of my Trial.
Landing on my front, unhurt, I climb to my feet and notice light bouncing off something on the horizon.
It gets a little closer; the underbelly looks like that of a sky-dragon, judging from drawings I’ve seen. The creature breathes fire from its mouth. It is a sky-dragon. I’m glad to be a safe distance away. How does it breathe here? Does it have powers like us? I use the suit’s synaptic cloaking device to hide myself as I move further away. It is said these things eat humans, without my powers it may mistake me for one.
Another burst of fire. The myths about these animals must be true. I thought they were just tales to scare children.
The beast lands on the edge of a crater, too far away to leap on me, but too close for comfort. I keep my distance. Its silvery body and gold chest complimented by the same colours on its four legs. Can it see me? It remains quite still, though facing me; it looks ready to pounce at any moment.
I wait, too petrified to move. Is this the purpose of my punishment, to show me fear and my place in the Universe?
The creature isn’t doing much. Has it died through lack of air? It must be able to breathe or it couldn’t have travelled here; unless it was sent here like me, banished. I almost feel sorry for it now.
As its stillness convinces me the danger may have subsided, the dragon opens its mouth, but rather than move towards me to take a bite, a smaller creature climbs out. This isn’t a sky-dragon; it’s a spaceship.
This creature is taller and fatter than me, has a white body and large shiny head with no eyes visible. Though it has arms and legs, it’s like nothing I have ever seen before. I don’t want to take a closer look.
I hear a crackling, what sounds like voices coming through to my spacesuit. Could it be trying to communicate with me?
Unable to understand it, I access the suit’s synaptic-translator.
“That’s one small step for man,” the creature says. “One giant leap for mankind.”
Sounds like an explorer to me. My suit identifies it as human, registering another still inside the ship with a third in orbit.
No, there are more; many more. My readings are identifying 3.6 billion on a planet within 200,000 lengths of my position. But there aren’t that many humans in our Celestial Spheres, only a few million spread across many worlds.
I’m outside our Spheres, in the unknown Universe. That’s why I couldn’t fly. I wanted this, but now I’m terrified. I don’t have any power here, wherever here is.
The depressing statistics from my suit continue onto the superimposed visual display. Apparently, many species populate the nearby world, but not a single Potent, Scient or Present. A world where humans are free to rule is not a safe place for me. If they were to discover what our kind does to them, they would surely kill me. I feel vulnerable here.
These 3.6 billion humans are too advanced and need to be brought under the control of our people. Stopped before they grow even stronger; I’m sure my teachers would agree with my appraisal.
My head starts to feel light. I feel faint. The starlight fades. I wake in my bed. Was I asleep? The Grand Potent’s words ring in my head, “Pitiful boy. Fall on your ass.”
Is my punishment over?
“A bad dream?” mother asks from across the cave-hut. “Get up. You can’t spend all day in bed. You have your Trials at noon.”
Was it a dream, or had I been flying? The Potent don’t typically play elaborate mind games like the Scient. Did a Present send me back in time?
If it was real, I want to know who all those humans were, free to roam and explore outside our Spheres?
I am keen to get back to the Trials.
I arrive back at the school building and the same controlling Grand Potent from my dream glares at me.
Stringed music plays, this time it barely registers.
“Ready, young one?” the vibrant Potent Lady says. “Show us that you are controlled and capable. Whether you are ready to progress to full training? Now fly!”
Mouth clenched, I squeeze my hands, muscles tightening. As before, I lift my knees toward my stomach, holding my position, feet hovering above the ground. I wait for the Potent to insult me again.
“Not so pitiful, boy,” the Grand Potent smiles. “You do look like a bone sack, but I don’t think you will ever fall on your ass again.”
It wasn’t a dream. “It was real?”
“We wanted to show you where our combined abilities can take you. What arrogance and losing one’s temper can lead to. The gods would surely expel you from the Celestial Spheres if you try to possess more than one of the three abilities. When combined into a single man, worlds like ours become ruins.” He points at the war scars in the ground. “Greedy men are lonely beings. Never shall it happen again, I beg the gods.”
“So you did banish me outside of the Spheres?”
“We showed you our past. We may now mock and enslave humans, but our shared ancestors once achieved great things in great numbers. By working together, they did what few imagined possible. As a single Potent, you will never achieve half as much as two or three who share their different abilities. Even humans achieve more this way. That is the only way to be godlike and achieve wonderful things. Sharing is the way to explore.”
“You think I crave too much power?” I ask.
“Yes. Ancient humans fought great wars, overthrowing dictators, rarely learning from their mistakes. But they evolved and took the first steps, exploring and populating the Universe, sharing ideas, working together for a greater unselfish good. Knowledge ultimately beat power. That’s what we were showing you.”
Yet I can’t help think, if I had more ability I could go to that world of many humans… and I could rule over them like a real god. I could alter our terrible history. I could save dad.
“Good. You had better understand,” the Grand Potent says. “The last thing we need is more war. You have passed the Adolescent Trials. Your training will continue Vitas. You can achieve great things for all of mankind if you follow the rules and share.”
“Thank you teacher.” I bow. “I look forward to sharing,” other abilities. They made a mistake; they told me it has been done. That a single man has held all three abilities before, so it can be achieved again.
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Next book – Celestial Spheres: Part three (coming soon)
I hope you enjoyed this short story. at [email protected] at https://www.facebook.com/AntRyanSciFiFan or @VegAtheist with any feedback you’d like to give. Of course I’d appreciate any online reviews. Email me a link to your review and I will endeavour to send you free preview copies of future eBooks before general release.
Best wishes and thanks for taking the time to read my short story,
A boy with fantastic ability is desperate to showcase himself, but will pride come before a fall? Atmospheric, escapist, dark, mysterious, surreal science fiction/fantasy. Second part of a space opera series. (This part is ~3000 words). A simple trial to display an adolescent's grasp of the all powerful Potency should be straightforward. It isn't always. The three species graced with god-like abilities have finally reached a tentative symbiosis after millennia of war and destruction – giving their respective worlds a peaceful order. The Potent take pride in their new found self restraint, which goes against their natural want for all. Don’t own a Kindle? No problem! Kindle books can be read using the Free Kindle Reader App for your Web Browser, iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, or Android.