Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Stryker Chapter 2 - John's Beginning


John’s Beginning


             John sat in the royal classroom slumped over his desk. His professor droned on at the front of the small room.  Maps covered the walls, maps of their Empire, ancient maps of the Old World, and maps that charted the movement of the continents over the centuries.  John was tracing the gray swirls on his desk.  The desk was a gift from his father.  Both his parents had given special attention to the decoration of all his rooms.  When he first began his isolation in the west wing of the palace, the rooms had all seemed new and exciting.  The side of the palace he would have all to himself seemed enormous.  Now, after six years of living exclusively in the west wing, with no one for company but his professors, his parents, and occasionally his twin sister Jane, it had become dull and excruciatingly confined.   In the beginning, his mother tried to make his isolation seem special, but for a long time John had still missed the other children. 
            When Peter, John’s younger brother, entered the military academy, some of his friends had come to the palace.  John saw them once from a balcony.  They were playing some sort of ball game; he could not capture the rules of it. He had almost allowed himself to want to play, but he held off the emotion.  He knew his brother would sense it, and he did not want Peter mistaking it for envy.  The eldest son of the supreme monarch could not be found, even by his brother, to envy any other position.
             But that was a long time ago. Now John was seventeen and he saw things clearly. He understood his position and did not envy Peter’s friends. Besides, Peter was now fourteen and had been living full time at the academy for two years.
            John was generally indifferent toward his teachers. Each had been picked by his mother, so they were constantly bowing and praising, but none of them showed any real interest in him.  When the Empress came on her daily visits, they would fawn over him and tell her what an excellent pupil he was.  “Destined to be a great leader,” they would smile, “just like his mother of course.” Destined… his destiny, his purpose, he had heard it since the day he was born.  He was the heir to the Throne, destined to become the Supreme Monarch, the great mind and will of the people.          
            John understood his privileged position.  Their abilities made Empaths the perfect rulers.  He would absorb his people’s desires, fears, and concerns, temper them with his own education, training, and the wisdom of his lineage, and act in a way that would benefit all his subjects. If he failed to lead the Empire, they would fall to the rebels.  The order of their society would fall into chaos.  They would degenerate like the Kingdoms of the South.  He accepted this position and was resolved to accept all the responsibility that came with it. 
            Now, he saw the necessity of his isolation, he was young when it began, only eleven, but his empathic capabilities had already developed.  Until he had control he could not associate closely with anyone whose emotional energy patterns would disrupt or contaminate his own.
            The desk was ugly.  The swirls were random, almost chaotic. John abhorred disorder and would have preferred plain white.  This desk looked so unorganized.  It was typical of the things his father would pick out. The Emperor loved anything disorderly and studied the Ancients with an almost unhealthy interest.  John sometimes sensed his father admiring the ancient days, before the great destructions, when countries where ruled by the ever changing whims of the uneducated masses, before the Empaths brought order to the world.  John’s mother often tried to downplay her husband’s interest in the Ancients.  She told people, and herself, that it was a hobby, that he merely thought the ancient ways were quaint and interesting.  She kept him from talking too much about it at dinners or court balls.  Still, she could not hide everything.  John’s own name was of ancient origin, as were the names of his sister Jane and his brother Peter.  John did not dislike his father, though he rarely saw him. 
            John did hate his name.  He traced it out on the desk with his finger. The h was particularly annoying.  It was superfluous. Sticking out of the middle of the otherwise concise and efficient word.  Jon, would have been adequate, Jonh would at least have been symmetrical but John… It was a ridiculous name. The professor was droning on about the political lead up to the South Pacific nuclear conflicts of the early twenty-third century.  John was utterly bored.
            A sudden sensation of anger from the professor brought him out of his thoughts.  He looked up at the fat, middle-aged historian.  He was angry.  Though the professor smiled calmly, John could sense the emotion.  He asked John to repeat what he had just said.
            John sat up straight and answered quickly, “The Asian Union defeated the Slavic rebellion, with the nuclear destruction of Novgorod.”
            The professor’s anger turned to annoyance. They always hated it when he got the answer right, especially when they thought they had caught him not listening. “What year was that?” he asked, his annoyance showing in his voice.
            John sighed, “2394, by the ancient calendar, 1932 before present.  That is what led to the first lunar migrations, at the beginning of the twenty-fifth century.” John waited to see if this would diffuse the annoyance or cause it to shift back to anger.
            “Very good,” the professor said, still smiling.   He was angry again. John sat up straighter and asked, “But why were the Slavs in rebellion if they were tied so economically to the union? After all, didn’t they share the same land mass?”
            “Well,” said the professor, his anger fading as he turned back to the board and began to outline, “the Slavs had cultural and national unity that clashed with the integration doctrine of…” John tuned him out again but reminded himself to watch out for further annoyance.  If his mother heard he was distracted during class she would get the royal Empaths to suppress his curiosity again.          
            There were no more outbursts.  The professor ended the lesson by assigning him to trace the lineages of the four southern despots to see which contributed genetically to the royal line.  John already knew it was Geoffrey Leren, of the European confederation.  His mother had a picture of him on the family wall.  Some suspected he was an early Empath and that was why he was selected for the genetic conservation, and on and on. John would have Jane write the assignment.  She would be glad to help.
            He was excited to see Jane.  She had been away for a month in the country.  She had been back since that morning but she had to go through emotional decontamination with the royal Empaths before she could see him. She would bring him news of their father and the war. 
            The class ended with his daily lesson from the propaganda instructor. The propaganda lessons were all routine and memorized.  Today’s was about the energies. 
            “What is energy?” The instructor asked.
            “Energy is in everything, it is the force that holds atoms together, the gravity that holds the universe in balance, it is light, it is heat, it is love and happiness. The types of Energy are endless,” John answered.
            “Which energies are given to humans to control?”
            “All Humans can create and control heat energy in their bodies and kinetic energy in their muscles. Some humans are genetically superior and able to control higher energies, Shar, Ra and Mune. Some humans are corrupted with Syth, the degenerate energy.”
            “What energy do you control?”
            “Mune, the greatest of all energies.  The governing energy.”
            “Why is it the greatest?”
            “Because all other energies are subordinate to it.”
            “Why do you control it?”
            “It is the natural order, energy creates its own strength, and the strong rule to protect the weak.  Nature makes Mune, Mune makes an Empath, the Empath is ordained by Nature.
            “Whom do you rule?”
            “Those chosen by nature and infused with the Syth, the linking energy, the compliant energy.  Those infused with the Syth are the body.  Empaths, with their Mune, are the mind. It is Nature’s way.”
            “And the other’s?”
            “Ra to the Cleats, energy that can stall and freeze. Shar to the Blade Maidens, energy that can move and strike.”
            “What is your duty as an Empath?”
            “Mune is the ruling energy, we rule the masses infused with Syth, we direct the motion of the Blade Maiden’s Shar, and we use the Cleats’ Ra to hold the universe in balance.”
            “But the universe is not in balance.”
            “No, the Cleats and the masses deny their place, they deny nature.  They are the diseased limbs of the body.  As Empaths we must act as the immune system, destroy the diseased part and bring the limbs back to their natural order.”
            “Which is?”
            “Under our control.”
            “Praise to John, son of the Emperor,”
            “Praise to my instructor and gratitude,” John quickly pushed a feeling of gratitude at the instructor, who felt it, smiled and bowed. 
            With lessons over, John hurried down the stairs, unbuttoning his tight jacket and loosening his necktie as he went.  He rarely got this excited.  He decided to let the excitement stay.  Jane would feel it and appreciate it.  He turned down the long marble hallway that led away from his training rooms.  He stopped by the door to his study, probed inside but did not feel his sister there. She must be outside. He stepped into the study, quickly took off his tie, vest, and jacket, folding them neatly on the chair, then continued down the hall and entered the gymnasium through large double doors.  The lamp over the sparing rink was still lit.  They were cleaning it before tomorrow’s lesson.  He did get a lot of that kid’s blood on it last time.  Really, when were they going to let him face someone his own age?
            He went out through the double doors on the opposite side of the gym.  They opened into the courtyard.  The sun was low in the sky. Jane was sitting by the side of the swimming pool.  She had not changed at all.  In fact, she looked exactly as she always did.  Her hair was thick, dark, and wavy like John’s. It had grown a little longer while she was away, but the country sun had done nothing to tan her pale skin. She always reminded John of Snow White from the ancient legends.  She was tracing circles in the water with her finger.  She was dressed in a white dress with silver trim, a simple dress, the kind their mother hated. The Empress was always frustrated that Jane would not wear extravagant gowns or jewelry.
            Beside Jane stood her two bodyguards, dressed in simple chain-mail armor.  Standing next to his sister they looked massive.  They were Joined. As punishment for some crime or rebellion their emotional energies had been purged.   Now they quite literally lived only to serve. Any skilled Empath could transfer any desire into their minds, and they would obey. They stared out blankly from pale faces. Their short hair was ghostly white. A dark blue V marked their foreheads, and there was a dark blue dot on their right temples. The whiteness was a side effect of the drug used in the joining process, and the blue marks were burned into their skin when their Mune was extracted.  Frozen soldiers like these were a common sight around the palace.  Most of the Empire’s army was made up of Joined. 
            As John came out into the courtyard, he sensed Jane’s emotions before she noticed him. She was nervous, hiding something she did not want to tell him.  She looked up as he drew near.
            “John!” She cried energetically, coming forward and hugging him. It was something bad. She was afraid to tell him.
            “How are you?” She asked. “Silly question, I know, I can sense that you are well, I’m glad you’re excited to see me.”
            John decided not to ask her what she was hiding right away.  She knew he could sense it and would tell him soon.  They sat down together on the grass at the edge of the pool. 
            “How was the country?” he asked.
            “Oh, fine. We rode horses on the beach. You’d have loved it. The ocean air, it makes you feel so free, it’s like, well, I’ll show you.”  She reached out her hand and touched John lightly above the eyebrows.  John was instantly filled with a wonderful feeling of exhilaration and freedom.  He could feel the wildness of the horse and the wind blowing in his hair.  He pulled away from her touch.
            “Feels great.” He told her. 
            She looked doubtful.  He assured her with a burst of gratitude. 
            “We can take you there first thing when the isolation is up,” she said.
            “Yeah,” he answered quietly.
            “You’re coming along on your resistance training aren’t you?” she asked.
            “Of course,” he answered.  “It’s easy. I can block everything the royal Empaths can throw at me. I’m sure I could resist commoners.”
            “So you’ll be ready when the test comes?”
            John looked up at the guards.  He pressed into them the desire to go to the gymnasium and wait. Without hesitation they walked quickly and mechanically toward the gymnasium doors.
            He turned back to Jane, “I’ve been ready for the tests for months.  Mother is just dragging it out.  She says my combat training needs more time, but I beat everyone they put me up against.” He let her sense his surety.  She relaxed.
            “Well soon you’ll be out of this, and we can visit the whole Empire.” She smiled intently, pressing her excitement onto him. 
            “Yeah, it’ll be great.” He let her excitement take him for a moment. “It will be wonderful not to have to go to history classes anymore. I’ll bet Peter…” He stopped.  It was Peter. There was something she did not want to tell him about Peter. “I bet he’ll be sick of the academy by then.”  He hurried on, trying to cover that he sensed her apprehension. “We can all go to the country and ride horses on the beach.” 
            Jane smiled but did not answer.   
            “How is Peter?” John ventured after a moment.  A faint sadness rose in his sister, but she masked it well under resolve. 
            “He’s doing well at the academy. His happiness is genuine and strong, even mom can sense it.” Jane did not respect their mother’s empathic abilities. “Only he…” She stopped.
            “Only what?” John asked. Her sadness was rising again.
            “He is less and less sad to go back to the academy after his holidays are over.”
            “There’s something else,” John said questioningly. “Don’t try to protect me and don’t wonder if it’s best to tell me.”
            After a moment she said softly, “He doesn’t miss you anymore.”
            It was true, but there was still more. “You are afraid to tell me the rest.” John said simply. “Strange,” he went on, “but I’ll know when I see him.”
            At this Jane became genuinely angry.  John countered it with annoyance, followed by mild regret and then resolve.  This brought her anger down, and she did not challenge his resolve.  John was more skilled than his sister. He had much more control over his empathic sense.  Still, her energy had always been stronger than his, her emotions much more intense.  There were times when she almost overpowered him.  No one else in the palace could affect John like Jane.  If any other person had that kind of effect on him, he would fear them, but John could not fear Jane, and she did not envy him.  She was his only real friend.  She was the only one who understood him, the only one he could joke with about his parents.  The only one who saw him as John, rather than the Ruling Prince.  They both knew they genuinely loved each other.  
            He changed the subject. “How is father?”
            “Good,” she answered.  “The army should be moving again soon.”
            “And the resistance?”
            “Nothing to our armies.”
            “Are we anywhere near Kaara,”
            “The rebel stronghold?  No, we’re spread too thin across the plains, and fighting in the jungle is almost impossible.”
            She did not want to talk about the war, so John changed the subject back to the countryside.  Then she asked him about school.  They made fun of his professors, and she told him how Lady Mullen, her governess, was getting crabbier and crabbier.  They were old conversations.  Things they always talked about on her visits.  Still, they talked until dark.  
            Later they meandered through the west wing.  John showed her new pieces of art their father had commissioned, a painting of a quadratic expansion formula, a sculpture of two identical cubes, and a statue of their mother. 
            “She looks fat,” Jane laughed.
            “I think father paid the sculptors extra to make her look that way,” John said smiling.   
            Finally, Jane called her guards back and returned to the main part of the house.  John walked alone to his room. He shut the door, and after a few minutes, he sensed two of his own guards taking up their post at his bedroom door. 
            The room was large and nearly empty.  The walls were bare and white, the decoration simple compared to the other richly furnished rooms in the palace. John liked it that way.  Even Jane had tried to get him to decorate more, but he insisted that he should at least be able to choose the way his own room looked.  His mother was upset by the design.
             “Like a commoner’s room,” she had complained.
            His father had been amused at this. “I think John’s bed alone cost more than most commoner’s homes.”
            But John loved simplicity.  The world outside his room was always full of energy and noise.  He loved to sit in the dark with nothing to do, nothing to learn or fight, no one to sense or evaluate.
            He undressed and got into bed, slipping between the smooth cool sheets.  Pale moonlight came in through the window.  He wrapped himself in the familiar sadness that was always left when Jane’s visits were over.  As he lay in his bed, he let himself feel longing, an emotion he rarely let himself feel.  He was not longing for the old days, the days Jane hoped would return when his isolation was over.  He longed for those days he could barely remember. Days before his emphatic sense had begun to reach outward.  Jane had always been connected to him, he felt her emotions as long as he could remember, but for years she was the only one in his head.  They were alone together. 
            He longed for those days before other energies had invaded his mind, before his mother feared him, before Peter envied him. He let these feelings flow around him for a time. He felt remorse, sadness, even a taste of fear.  He did not let it go on for long, however.  After some minutes, he gathered the emotions together in his mind and sharply repressed them.  They disappeared instantly. John smiled at this.  Repression was the first technique he had learned as part of his resistance training, and he was pleased to see that it worked so well on such strong emotions.  It meant his isolation would soon be over.  He put his hands under his head and gazed up at the ceiling.  His whole life stretched out before him.