A cycle passes, away from the school and Vala.
My desire to be Gen fills me, stronger and stronger, but I miss Vala even more.
Most students are told to wait a cycle between classes, but Vala said that I could return in three months.
The months are long past, and I haven’t seen or spoken with her since I left.
She doesn’t answer my messages.
Every few months she sends me a note with one word: “wait.”
What does the council want, and why does Vala ignore me?
I won’t believe she is silent by choice, but will I wait forever?
I walk by the round stadium with its high clear dome.
The stone walls, two hundred feet high, glow and sparkle.
The stadium stands as a fortress now, tall archways filled with stone, and no doors anywhere.
An hour before a tournament, the stadium transforms.
The walls vanish in a dozen places, beneath the twenty foot archways, and the guests pass through.
When the tournament begins, the walls return, sealing everyone inside for the next few hours.
Before long the tournament ends, and the walls open briefly to let the guests leave.
Then the stadium grows quiet again.
There is no tournament today, as I wander near the stadium.
I imagine sitting with classmates at a tournament, as wonders explode all around us.
I can only dream of it, for the tournaments are still deadly to me.
I move next to an arch, and the thin, green band of color on my right wrist thickens and glows brightly.
Anyone who touches the walls without an esku will pass out, but few people touch the walls by accident.
The stadium stands apart from the rest of the city, surrounded by gardens and orchards, and warning signs.
This is a peaceful, quiet place, except during the tournaments.
This morning, and most mornings, just before dawn, I walk around the stadium.
I pretend the walls will open for a moment, and let me see the place that I cannot go, but they never open.
My whisheeku aches, as it does most days.
The star holds its shape, but some days, like today, it changes color.
I ignore the ache and run my fingertips over the smooth stone.
The stone feels warm to the touch, whatever the weather, with a pleasant current of energy that runs through my hands.
My energy eyes open.
Hovering on the side of the arch is the whisheeku energy pattern.
I raise my left palm to touch the pattern, and the world fades.
Is this a dream, a vision, or just a world that hides from our eyes?
I can’t tell, but it feels real.
Everything around me is in motion, rivers and streams of energy, cool and clear, like glowing ice or crystal.
Moving along the ground, and spinning through the air.
My body is clear crystal like the rivers, with the whisheeku my only heart, a shining star within, that glows brighter than anything around me.
One place in the landscape rises higher than the rest, and calls me.
I float slowly toward the small hill, struggling with the growing heat.
Four rivers of energy approach the hill from four directions and flow up the hill.
The rivers meet at the top, a few feet from where I stand, and disappear into the hill.
Not a hill, really, but a great well that becomes a fountain, and reaches up toward the energy sky.
I hover over the well, the fountain moves through me, and I look down, deep into the well.
A glowing whisheeku looks back at me from the deep heart of the well.
Another looks down at me from the sky, fed by the great fountain.
The whisheekun are wheels, and stars.
The moving crystal that fills this world erupts with sound, and the world stops.
The crystal scatters into tiny fragments, each piece a colorful sphere, with three black rods that pierce the sphere in three dimensions.
The rods glow with black fire, and sparks fly from sphere to sphere.
Where am I in all of this?
Am I the swarm, the sea of tiny spheres of crystal, or am I the sparks?
I let my awareness reach out and take hold of the endless wave of black rods.
I shape us with my will, until we take form again.
The rods are the key.
We move through form after form, until my strength is gone.
The waves of moving crystal energy return, and fill the space around us.
We let go of form and ride those waves, which give us the strength for one more thought.
“Take the shape of the whisheeku!”
The world returns.
I struggle home and sleep for a day after my first visit to the crystal lands.
I visit them as much as my strength allows, and week after week I grow stronger.
Finally I will wait no longer.
One day I look for Vala early in the morning, after my walk.
The guard at the school will not let me in.
“You have the esku,” he says, “and you are listed as a third level, but you are not scheduled for any class.”
“Go home until you’re called.”
I walk away from the school, and stop in the nearby park.
Then I let the whisheeku glow within me, and welcome the energy all around me.
We are together, bursts of energy that sing with awareness before the silence comes.
I close my eyes and imagine the black rods that reach out from the tiny crystal spheres that underlie all existence.
As my eyes open, I hold the tops of two long black rods that rest on the ground.
A voice within me asks, “where will you go?”
“Into the school,” I answer myself, defiant.
Then I swing my hands together, hard.
The rods melt together, and disappear in a burst of light.
The world glows around me, thin like a cloud.
I see, but only with energy eyes.
I try to move, but my feet pass through the ground.
At first I panic, wondering what I’ve done to myself.
Then I remember Vala speaking of phantoms.
Beginning students don’t melt their physical bodies into another shape or substance.
It’s difficult, and dangerous.
It takes great skill to hold your awareness when you reshape your body to other forms.
There are other dangers.
If a student lets go of all physical form, he dies.
It’s much easier to become a phantom, and hide your body in a strange, unseen world.
Beginners learn to twist the body out of phase with the rest of the world.
Invisible, untouchable, within a shield of air and warmth, blind to the ordinary physical world.
Physical senses can’t overcome the phase difference, but our energy bodies float easily across the phase boundaries, and give us energy sight.
Becoming a phantom is really the second step, after we build a shell.
We transform nearby energy or matter into a living or non-living physical form that exists in the regular world.
Then we attach our awareness to this shell, so we can control the shell, while our bodies are safely hidden away.
Vala’s voice fades away.
She never taught me how to build a shell or become a phantom.
We start those lessons in third class, and the school is is still closed to me.
I am a phantom, alone, with no one to help me find the way back.
Is there a teacher hiding within me?
I focus my attention on the whisheeku, and ask for help.
The black rods appear again in my hands.
I think only of return, and strike the rods together.
The park is solid again beneath my feet.
I turn my back on the school, and walk away.
I continue to train on my own, using the crystal spheres and the black rods.
Soon I find the way to build a shell.
Clumsy and weak at first, I practice for hours every day.
Another cycle passes, before the message comes.
My heart pounds as I run to the school.
The guard lets me in, and sends me to one of the small rooms.
Vala joins me there after a few minutes.
I expect her to be happy to see me, but she looks troubled.
“How are you, Neebol?” she asks politely, without enthusiasm.
“Tired of waiting.”
“Two cycles, Vala, and you never spoke with me.”
“The council forbid me and all Gen from any contact with you.”
“They said that I could enter the third class!”
“They wouldn’t let their decision rest.”
“They continued to discuss you, but they couldn’t decide what to do with you!”
“Finally, they took the way of cowards, did nothing, and every six months postponed your return.”
“Now. two cycles are gone, and no decision is needed.”
“At your level, the contact with Gen energy during the classes and tests is needed to feed your growth.”
“Two cycles without us will stop the growth of the energy within you, and cut you off forever from being Gen.”
“I’ve called you here, just to say goodbye.”
“That’s all you have to say?!”
“There’s nothing else I can do, Neebol.”
“I wanted this even more than you do.”
I don’t understand her.
Why would she care so much whether I become Gen?
I will not let them stop me!
I aim for the wall in anger and frustration, and my hand passes through, as the world disappears.
I move my phantom hand away from the wall, and bring my body back into phase with the world.
“You’ve mastered the phantom transformation on your own?”
“Yes, and I’ve started to build shells.”
“That’s not possible,” she says with a puzzled expression.
“Is the council listening to us?”
I tell her of the crystal spheres and the rods.
“The whisheeku helped me somehow.”
“Be quiet,” she says, “while I test you.”
“The council will be watching this.”
I open my energy eyes, and see one area on her energy body glow brightly.
Then I feel her energy moving through me, testing my energy.
When she is done she disappears, according to tradition, and I meet her outside the room.
“I could feel your energy during the test,” I tell her.
“You’ve grown Neebol, without help,” she says at last, “to level five.”
“A small tear falls from her left eye.
“What will the council do now?”
“They will have to train you or kill you, Neebol.”
“You’re too powerful to ignore.”
“Wait here, while I meet with them.”
She disappears, and I sit nearby.
I close my eyes and turn my energy vision to the world of crystal spheres.
In that world I am just another collection of energy.
I dance and fly across great distances, with barely a thought.
I feel when Vala returns.
Is it minutes or hours?
“What did they decide?” I ask aloud.
“No more classes for you, Neebol.”
“I don’t care,” I shout, rising up.
“I’ll keep training without them.”
“Calm down, Neebol,” she says.
“You don’t understand.”
“They just want to keep you away from the other students.”
“I will train you, far from the city and the school.”
“Why did you cry before, Vala?”
“I saw the tear.”
She turns away from me.
I touch her, and turn her toward me.
“You’re an incredible student, Neebol,” she answers.
“I love teaching you, and I know how much you want to be Gen.”
“I was so relieved and happy that your energy is still growing.”
“Is that all?”
She looks troubled.
“I like you Neebol, more than I should.”
“You’re so young, and you haven’t lived yet.”
“You’re moving too fast toward becoming a Gen.”
“Find a girl, and have a family.”
“You only have ten or twenty cycles left as flesh.”
“It’s too late for that,” I tell her.
“All I think about is being Gen, and our time together.”
“I’m Gen, Neebol.”
“There can’t be anything between us, as long as you’re still flesh.”
“Why do so many Gen live on our world?” I ask, frustrated.
“Do you want us to leave?” she asks.
“No,” I answer.
“I’m just surprised that you’re here, when there’s a universe waiting for you!”
“Many of us are weak,” she answers.
“They stay, because they can’t let go of their old lives.”
“They seek the comfort of familiar places, family, and life.”
“They want the power of being Gen, and they still want to hold on to their old lives.”
“Others are here so they can compare themselves to those of ordinary flesh, and feel like gods.”
“These are dangerous.”
“Some must remain to teach the ways of melting, so new Gen can be born.”
“They also protect you from arrogant Gen.”
“A few are here for the love of the tournament.”
“Why do you stay, Vala?” I ask
“My twelve hundred cycles here are almost gone.”
“My reasons for staying don’t matter any more.”
“They matter to me.”
“I’m waiting for something, Neebol, and I’m still hoping to find it, before I leave this world.”
Vala pushes me hard in our sessions over the next cycle.
Sometimes I don’t recognize myself, when I see what I can do.
She tries to be cold with me, but her smiles keep escaping the lock that rests on her heart.
Once I thought that I wanted a family and a regular life, but that’s all gone now.
My esku gets me through the open arches at the stadium.
There is another guard outside the gated area where the Gen sit.
I show the ticket that Vala gave me.
The guard gives me a strange look, but he lets me pass.
The stadium is huge and beautiful, and I have incredible seats.
Two dozen of the Gen sit in this reserved section, waiting for the tournament to begin.
The Gen take on physical bodies when they walk among us, but this doesn’t dim their strength.
“What are you doing here?” one of them asks, clearly unhappy.
He looks like flesh and blood, but I can see beneath it, and know that he is Gen.
He could crush me with barely a thought, and he would enjoy it.
“Vala is my master,” I answer.
“She asked me to sit here.”
I show him the ticket.
“You stole it, probably,” he says with contempt, and turns my ticket into fire.
Vala arrives and stands between us.
“Leave him alone, Dikan.”
“He’s my guest.”
Vala takes my hand, and we sit down, but Dikan is not finished.
“Is he your pet, Vala?”
“He’s just a dirty, slow one.”
I’m insulted and angry.
Many Gen are proud and arrogant, and delight in calling us slow ones.
Gen use this name for those still trapped in physical bodies, weighed down by our frozen shapes.
Compared to Gen, our actions, thoughts and feelings barely move.
Even when Gen tie their spirits to physical form, they still think and move a hundred times faster.
He moves to hit me at extraordinary speed, and I move aside, just in time.
With training, my energy body has changed, and can lend its power to the physical body.
This brings mental and physical speed, along with other possibilities.
“How?” Dikan asks.
“He’s at seventh level,” she says, “maybe past it.”
“He’s a baby,” Dikan shouts.
“How did he get to seventh level so fast?”
“Didn’t you hear the rumors, Dikan, about the one who sees the towers?”
“This is him.”
Dikan’s face grows even darker, now full of hate and envy.
“For all his tricks, he’s still flesh, and a dead spirit can’t pass though the birthing!”
This time he comes at me with all of his strength and speed.
I can’t get out of the way, but I can phase out, and put up a shell of steel.
He breaks his hand, and screams in pain.
He reshapes the healthy body in a moment.
A massive burst of energy comes at me, in phase with my phantom body, but it never reaches me.
Dikan is gone.
“Where did he go?” I ask Vala.
“Did you kill him?”
“He wanted to kill you,” she says, her voice uneven.
“I had to protect you.”
“Gen are nearly indestructible,” she says, but I threw him into the sun.”
“He is bound there with dead spirits, until the gateway opens, and they all pass to the next world.”
“There is no return.”
Waiting for Love
She transports us to the front gate.
“It’s against Gen law,” she says, “for anyone but the council to send a Gen to the sun, against his will.”
Her breathing is shallow and strained.
“You’re upset because you exiled Dikan?” I ask.
She turns to me.
“No, Neebol, because you almost died.”
“I’m sorry,” she says.
“I knew it was a bad idea to bring you here, but you wanted to see the tournament so much.”
“Plus, the council expects you to come.”
“After what I’ve done, you have to stay far away from other Gen, to escape their revenge.”
“Come with me,” she says, and takes my hand.
We walk out of the stadium, and sit in the orchards.
I watch the walls, waiting for the tournament to start, and the archways to disappear.
She still holds my hand.
“When the tournament ends,” she says, “they will come to judge me.”
We sit there quietly holding hands, and speak little as the hours pass.
Soon the walls open, and the stadium empties.
The area is quiet and peaceful, again.
A few seconds later, the world darkens for a moment.
Vala and I are back in the stadium, sitting in the same area as before.
Seven Gen are arranged in a semi-circle in front of us.
Other Gen come and tell what they saw.
Then the judges ask each of us questions.
They stare at me for a long time.
“Are you ready for justice, Vala?” they ask.
They are quiet for a while.
“They have connected their thoughts together to pass judgment,” she whispers.
A few minutes later, they speak.
“You are the oldest of all Gen that still walk this world, Vala, and the most skilled.”
“You could have stoped Dikan without exiling him.”
“He was a fool, but the law is the law.”
“Neebol can grow now without you, but we will not leave him alone.”
“He is powerful enough to be a danger to his own kind, if he goes unwatched.”
“He needs watching and training.”
“He is too important to us to remain flesh for long.”
“Therefore, hear our judgment.”
“Another Gen will complete his training.”
“Neebol will go through birthing without you, sometime in the next ten cycles.”
“So soon?” asks Vala.
“He has barely lived!”
The judge ignores her and continues.
“For twenty cycles you will not speak with him.”
“I have twenty one cycles left before I must leave the world.”
“When the twenty cycles of silence are done, you will perform with him.”
“Then, Vala, you will leave this world.”
“He will remain.”
“No,” I tell them.
“You defy us?” asks the judge.
“I could kill you as easily as I breathe.”
“You can kill me, but I won’t go through birthing with anyone but her.”
“She is the most skilled of all Gen.”
“I will be more powerful if she guides my birthing.”
“I may need that strength to discover the secrets of the towers.”
“Let me isolate myself from my own kind and the Gen for twenty cycles.”
“Then Vala can lead me through the birthing.”
“You’ll never survive twenty cycles,” says one of the judges.
“Dikan has friends.”
“Wherever you go, Gen will search for you.”
“They’ll find you, and they’ll kill you.”
“You can order the Gen not to harm me.”
He looks at Vala.
“The Gen don’t always follow our words,” he says, sharply.
“There is another way,” says Vala.
“I’ll stay with him as flesh, until he is reading for the birthing, and protect him.”
She turns to me.
“If you agree, I’ll tie my energies to this physical body,” she says, “and watch over you.”
“She must guard you day and night,” they tell me.
“Bond with me, Neebol?” she asks.
“It’s the only way that I can be with you all the time.”
“Don’t give away twenty cycles of your life, just to protect me!”
“I won’t bond with a guard!”
“No one else is safe around you, and you can’t be alone for twenty cycles.”
“But it’s much more than that, Neebol.”
“I want to be with you, not just protect you.”
“What about the training?” I ask.
“We’ll continue it, and when you’re ready, I’ll lead you through the birthing.”
I take both her hands, and kiss them.
“Yes,” I say without hesitating.
Vala turns to the judges.
“Is this acceptable?” she asks them.
After a minute they answer.
“We don’t approve of relationships between Gen and the slow ones,” they say.
“Still, twenty cycles is little more than a breath.”
“Protect him and train him.”
“If you fail, we will throw you into the sun.”
The world fades again, and we find ourselves in the middle of the city, far from the stadium.
The green entrance band on my wrist has turned black.
“What does this mean, Vala?” I ask, showing her the black band.
“It will keep you out of the stadium.”
“Touch the stadium walls, or try to enter, and you’ll die,” she says.
I think of the stadium, and I sigh.
“I’ve made you wait again, Neebol,” she says, “ten or twenty cycles, this time!”
“I don’t care about the tournament,” I say, and smile.
“I’d give up the tournament forever, to be with you.”
“Then come, Neebol,” she says.
“There’s a lot to do.”
She laughs, and takes my hand.
“First we plan our bonding ceremony,” she says.
“Then we train.”