I wake up, and almost jump off my mat.
I’m thirty-five cycles today, a child no more.
Fully grown, with all my adult strength.
I want to celebrate, but my friends think it’s foolish.
I also hear mother’s voice in my head, saying it’s childish to celebrate birth cycles at my age.
Once, there were great celebrations at thirty-five, but the customs are gone, five hundred cycles ago.
I live on my own, and I became a full citizen at thirty, but I’m still excited.
What the world has forgotten, the Gen remember.
At thirty-five, you can enter the Gen schools to study the melting.
Then, you can enter the stadium to watch the Gen tournaments.
The Gen are energy beings who live among us, and teach us how to shape shift and bind energy.
The full name of the Gen is Gensai fon (hands of light), but we just call them Gen.
Those who hate or fear the Gen call them the dead, spirits who refuse to go to the next world where they belong.
We believe there are thousands or millions of Gen who live in our world, but the Gen will not say, and we have no way to know how many of them are really here.
We never see more than a hundred in one place, and the Gen aren’t visible, unless they want to be.
The Gen are so different from us, but they all begin life as people.
At thirty-five those with talent can study the ways of the melting.
If we are found worthy, we can choose to pass through the birthing and give up our physical bodies.
At times, the Gen use physical bodies, but the Gen don’t need the bodies anymore.
They wear the bodies like clothing, for minutes, hours or days.
Then the bodies vanish.
Is it like death, every time that the Gen release a body?
Is it death when people first release their physical bodies, and are born as Gen?
It scares me to think of death.
You can learn the melting without becoming Gen, and you can watch the Gen tournaments.
I’ve heard stories of the Gen for many cycles.
All of my grandparents became Gen, before I was born.
They don’t visit any more.
Mother says they’ve left this world for some distant place.
“Why do some Gen stay in the world, and others leave?” I ask.
Mother doesn’t know.
Her parents became Gen at the same time, but didn’t stay together afterwards.
They left our world, each without saying goodbye.
Mother is still upset about it.
“Gen don’t care about the living, even their own children,” she says.
I guess she’s right.
Mother swears she will never study the melting, and never become a Gen.
My father died young, cycles ago.
He never studied the melting, so he went where the dead go.
I walk into the school.
There are only four or five in the whole world.
It’s easy for me, because my city has one.
It’s the tallest, and most beautiful building in the city.
People say that most of it is empty.
It’s not large out of need, only desire.
The Gen are artists, and shape stone out of air in a moment.
I take a deep breath to calm myself, and walk through the high archway.
There’s a desk inside near the opening.
“Your business?” the guard asks.
He looks me over.
He’s probably flesh, like me.
Just a job for him.
“New student?” he asks.
“You can only sign up when the Gen are here.”
“Master Vala is here today.”
I fill out the form.
Give your name, and names of parents five Generations back.
Circle the names of any Gen, and tell the truth about why you want to learn the melting.
Everyone knows that you can’t lie on the forms.
The Gen see your thoughts.
If your thoughts don’t match your words, you will never be taught.
No second chances.
You can’t watch the Gen tournaments until you’ve finished the beginner’s class.
The Gen know that most people take the class so they can see they tournaments.
It’s reason enough.
Even if you have no talent, they’ll let you finish the class.
I want to learn the melting so I can fly,
swim at the bottom of the ocean,
travel through space, faster than light,
and see the tournaments.
About a dozen Gen play in a tournament.
They use their skills to shape matter and energy in beautiful forms, and move through their creations.
Even those who dislike the Gen, but have seen the tournament, say how beautiful it is.
I wait for her in a small, well-lit room with murals on the walls.
I sit at a small round table, and stand up when she enters.
I’m surprised by how beautiful she is, with sparkling green eyes.
She looks my age, but I know that her appearance means nothing.
She made this body from air, today, or last week.
I wonder if her birth body looked anything like this.
“Welcome, Neebol,” she says.
“Thank you,” I answer nervously, remembering that she hears my thoughts.
“I know your grandparents a little from the tournaments.”
“Let’s see if you have any talent, so I can put you in the right class.”
Seven shining crystal bowls appear on the table in a circle.
Each bowl has a thick liquid of a different color, red through violet.
“Put your hands over the green bowl,” she says.
I do, and my hands feel warm, like heat is rising from the bowl.
“Good,” she says with a laugh.
“Some people can’t even feel the heat.”
“Now close your eyes and put both hands into the bowl.”
“You may see an image or two, or nothing at all.”
“I’ll be able to see what you see.”
I lower my hands into the bowl, hoping for at least a brief image.
I gasp aloud.
I’m flying fast through grayish skies, and I pass quickly over the tops of several mountains.
I wear long black robes, with gold circles by each wrist.
The hands are not my hands, and the body is alien.
The clouds move quickly.
It’s raining all around me, but I’m dry, and the wind doesn’t touch me.
Finally, I land on the tallest of the mountains, on a strange flat area.
It looks like something tore off the top of the mountain and flattened it out.
On the mountaintop there are seven towers.
Three on each side of a long footpath, and one tower at the end.
I walk to the first tower on the right, raise both my hands, and touch the door.
It opens, and fire comes bursting out of the tower.
I feel the fire consuming my body, and smell the disgusting smell of burnt flesh.
I pull my hands out of the green bowl and open my eyes.
I’m breathing hard, and I feel faint.
Vala has a strange expression on her face.
“Are you all right?” she asks.
“Drink this,” she says,” and hands me a glass with a familiar smelling tea.
I drink it, and it calms me.
“I wasn’t expecting such vivid images,” I tell her.
“Neither was I,” she says.
She’s not smiling.
“Did I do something wrong?”
She takes my hands and looks me in the eyes.
“I’m not upset with you,” she says, “just surprised.”
“The images you see are a world where powerful energy beings live.”
“Only the most powerful Gen have had a vision of this world.”
“Never has a student seen it, and no Gen has ever seen a door open.”
“What does the vision mean?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” she says, now smiling, “but I’m putting you in my second level class.”
“It starts in three weeks.”
“I’ll give you tutoring before then in the basic material.”
“Come back at day’s end.”
“I’ll be here.”
She puts a thin strand of green metal around my wrist.
The metal disappears and leaves a glowing green line on my skin.
“It won’t wash off,” she says, “and this will get you admission into the stadium to watch the tournaments.”
My mind is swimming.
I can’t think of what to say or do.
I manage to blurt out, “thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” she says.
“Now go home and eat something, Neebol.”
“A vision of death is a great shock to the body.”
“Goodbye Master Vala.”
“Neebol,” she says with a teasing smile, “this is exactly what I looked like when I was your age, about a thousand cycles ago.”
I turn and walk out of the building, my heart still pounding.