This serial is presented in draft form and will be updated each Thursday. Your comments are always welcome!
Prologue ~ Ch 1 ~ Ch 2 ~ Ch 3 ~ Ch 4 ~ Ch 5 ~ Ch 6 ~ Ch 7 ~ Ch 8 ~ Ch 9 ~ Ch 10 ~ Ch 11 ~
Ch 12 ~
Ch 13 ~ Ch 14 ~ Ch 15 ~ Ch 16 ~ Ch 17 ~ Ch 18 ~ Ch 19 ~ Ch 20 ~ Ch 21 ~ Ch 22 ~
Ch 23 ~ Ch 24 ~ Ch 25 ~ Ch 26 ~
Ravi stayed with Nereida until she fell into what he hoped was a dreamless sleep, then slipped away back to his own room before he was missed. For tonight at least the dim corridors lost their adventurous appeal, instead they had ominous feel and he found himself jumping nervously at shadows. When he was finally safe in his own bed he found his own sleep to be elusive.
He couldn't believe that those in authority had been prepared to let Nereida die, just because her gift wasn't strong enough. Even more, he couldn't believe Nereida had kept something like this from him. But then again, maybe he could understand her reasoning. She knew that his first reaction would to be get them both away from this place, but as she said, where would they go? He had to wonder, what else had she been keeping from him?
Surely she was not the first with a weak gift, what happened to the others? He tried to remember the different power ratings of the others in his year group - three, five, four . . . he was the only seven. Where were the ones whose power was less than a three rating? It's not like he could ask an instructor about it.
He'd been so proud of being part of the Program, so proud of his power rating. Now he just felt . . . stupid. Stupid and betrayed. For the first time in his life he found himself questioning the whole point of the breeding program.
From the time they'd been taken away from their mother they'd had it drilled into them how important the breeding program was, how privileged they were to be a part of it. Was this really all there was to their lives? Why was it so important that the breeding lines were kept pure? How powerful did an Elemental have to be before it was considered enough, and what would happen to the rest of them when that was accomplished?
Nereida almost died because her gift wasn't strong enough, but that didn't make sense. They were taught that most of those with very weak gifts underwent mild tespiros. Why was hers so bad then? He remembered losing his connection with her, their pain keeping them from communicating in words. From what he recalled he could remember sensing her pain though and trying to get to her. Was it was because of their mental connection that they kept her alive?
Kairavini sat up in bed suddenly. Was that the reason she'd been in such pain to begin with? Because she was experiencing his pain? The very idea horrified him. He needed to find one of the medical technicians who oversaw his tespiro to ask him about it.
Stop it! Nereida demanded. There is nothing to be gained from reliving the past. What's done is done. We cannot ask questions without revealing our mutation --
What do you mean, mutation?
As far as I'm able to determine, there's never been another set of twins born into the Program. That alone is enough to make us abnormal. But we are able to communicate mind to mind as well. What do you think they would do to us if this were ever discovered?
An icy chill went up Ravi's spine. And there's your dreams, your ability to see into the future. I've never heard of anyone else with your ability.
She made no reply and Ravi sat up even straighter in bed. Nereida?
There was one other, she replied. If she'd been speaking out loud her voice would have been a whisper. As it was, her mental voice was a mere wisp.
Nereida gave a mental shrug. She's gone now, that's all that matters. Now, would you stop thinking so hard and go to sleep? I don't know about you, but I have an early day tomorrow.
Ravi smiled into the dark. As you wish, sister. He slid downwards in his bed again.
It was good seeing you again.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Kairavini found it increasingly difficult to keep from asking questions during the weekly lectures on the breeding process. It was as though once he started questioning the Program itself and his place in it, he couldn't help questioning everything.
The breeding itself was straight forward enough, it was just everything leading up to it that was confusing. The instructor kept emphasizing they were to keep their emotions at bay, but wouldn't having some feelings towards the other person only make the whole thing easier? It was not his duty he questioned, it was the execution of that duty.
"I hate to say it," Zephryn told him, after glancing furtively around the dining hall to make sure no one was close enough to listen. "But I have to agree. It's only human nature to have emotions. To tell us we have to do something so . . . intimate and not express any kind of emotion is crazy."
"I'll bet we're not the only ones who feel this way either," Ravi said.
"I wonder why Arjun doesn't just use artificial means for the breeding?"
"I've never thought about it before, but now you've got me wondering too. If he really didn't want emotions involved, that would be the perfect solution."
"Well, feel free to ask the instructor during the next class," Zephryn said with a grin.
"Ha! Not after what happened to Adan."
Questions were no longer encouraged during class, however Adan, an Earth Elemental who barely rated a three on the power scale, asked for clarification on several points. Instead of receiving an answer, he received several days of short rations and restricted privileges instead.
At a sudden thought, Kairavini sat up straighter in his chair and looked around the dining hall.
"What is it?" Zephryn asked. From the look on his friend's face, he wasn't sure he wanted to know.
"Have you ever noticed that only the post-tespiro but pre-breeding Elementals use this dining hall?"
"I -" Zephryn stopped and looked around. "I hadn't really thought about it before. So what?"
"I'm just wondering what happens when we're part of the breeding program."
"What do you mean?"
"With all this talk about suppressing our emotions, I'm wondering if we'll be allowed to be friends still."