1. Angel of the Sun
Morgan trudged along behind the others, his wet suit clinging to his clammy skin, bonded to his thin, gawky body by a sheen of fearful sweat. Up ahead lay Dead Man’s Cliff, a two hundred feet drop into the icy North Sea.
He cursed himself again for being stupid enough to accept the dare. What was he doing at a place like Evanstone College, a talent crèche for future leaders, movers and shakers? He wasn’t a genius and his mum and dad weren’t rich. He just had this freak memory and a few other unusual gifts. And he had let himself be tricked into a terrifying test of courage. His fear tasted like acrid dribble in his mouth as he stumbled over tussocks of grass. He wasn’t brave. But yet he couldn’t back down, he just couldn’t.
There were four of them led by Mr Rossiter, Head of Physical Challenges. Sauntering over the headland in front of Morgan was Barker, a large boy he had come to hate with a fierce passion and who was responsible for issuing the challenge that, in a moment of madness, Morgan had accepted. Barker had his arm around the shoulders of delicious Deborah, whose merest glance in Morgan’s direction caused his mouth to dry and his tongue to flap helplessly as he attempted to blurt out some stupid rubbish.
When Barker issued his snide challenge Morgan should have known better. He realised it would catapult him up the Evanstone rankings but that wasn’t the real reason he accepted.
With Barker’s fleshy face thrust inches from his own, Morgan tried not to flinch from the stale odour of his breath.
“You’re just chicken, Lane,” Barker had sneered and licked his lips. “I know what you did even if no one else does. You’re a cheat and I’ll prove it. Super memory, eh? I don’t think so. I’ve already told Doctor Simpson.”
The delicious prospect of smacking that bulbous toffee-nose extremely hard caused Morgan to clench his fist in pleasurable anticipation until he realized he might be in enough trouble as it was without adding assault and battery to Barker’s allegations of cheating. Instead, in a moment of inspiration, he had slipped his hand into his pocket and taken out his mobile cell phone. But this was no ordinary device. Morgan had rebuilt it as a multi-stage transponder, decoder and scanner that could intercept encoded transmissions and decrypt them as well as having many other useful functions. Whilst keeping his eyes fixed on Barker’s ugly face in a head-to-head stare-out, he manipulated a small control into record mode.
“You’re a toe rag, that’s what you are,” Barker had growled. “My father could buy this school and get rid of you just like that.” Barker had snapped his fingers. “We don’t need types like you here so why don’t you jump before you’re pushed?”
Deborah had been standing close by. Morgan hardly heard the details of the challenge as he watched Barker’s fish-like lips moving. His only thought was of impressing her. Would she let him put his arms around her shoulders if he accepted?
Mr Rossiter’s voice shook Morgan out of his rigid trance. They were standing on the summit of a gorse-strewn headland that jutted out between two sandy bays far below. Morgan stared out at the white horses dancing and glinting on the dark blue waves. Gulls wheeled and spun in the updraft and their fractured screams sounded a gruesome warning. Barker and Deborah had stepped back out of the wind.
“Now then, Lane,” Mr Rossiter growled loudly in his gruff, no nonsense voice. “You do realize that you do not have to go through with this, don’t you?”
Morgan nodded. His body had stiffened and his stomach had started to churn unpleasantly.
“This challenge,” shouted Mr Rossiter into the breeze, “carries the maximum point score. Naturally, health and safety are our primary concerns. Don’t want any fatalities, now do we? Wouldn’t be good for our reputation. In the sea below are two highly experienced divers. They know these waters and these cliffs like the back of their hands. They’re holding yellow floats to denote the landing area. You aim to drop between these markers, all right?”
Morgan tried to speak but all that emerged from his mouth was a gargled cough.
“Don’t look so worried, Lane,” the master croaked close to Morgan’s ear. “Plenty have done this before you. Try to dive out and upwards, straighten out and plunge. If you can’t do that then jump feet first with your arms stretched above your head. Oh, and don’t forget to hold your breath.”
“Hope you’ve made your will, Lane,” laughed Barker from behind.
“Good luck, Morgan,” cried Deborah, her voice fluttering in the sea breeze like a summer shower of butterflies. Mr Rossiter tapped Morgan on the shoulder encouragingly.
Morgan shuffled forward until his toes reached the crumbling cliff edge. Inside his wet suit sweat burst from his pores and his limbs began to tremble. He glanced down at the two hundred foot drop. Like corks bobbing in the silky black water he could just make out two yellow blobs.
No. He couldn’t do it.
He would have to risk shame and failure and be the butt of Barker’s jibes for the rest of the week. No, he would leave early. He would rip off this stupid wet suit and flee with hot tears flowing back to his room, pack his bags and head for the station.
That’s when the Morgan heard the voice.
Mr Rossiter, Barker, Deborah and the whole headland appeared to recede down a long, brightly lit tunnel.
Morgan had read about people who heard voices. They were mostly mad as bats in a maze. He shook his head to try and rid himself of the weird intrusion. But this voice was distinctive and hard to ignore. It spoke his name softly but urgently.
“Morgan, I have been sent to help you.”
If this was madness then how come he felt perfectly normal? The voice sounded as though someone or something was standing right next to him.
“Morgan, you are not mad, believe me.”
Morgan stood without moving, staring into waves. The voice was real despite its existence being totally impossible. Could it read his mind?
“Who are you?” he grunted hoarsely under his breath, half inclined to laugh at his own stupidity.
The voice seemed to sigh as if what it said next would be even more unbelievable.
“I am a Sun Angel, Morgan. My name is Oriel.”
Morgan shook his head in disbelief.
“I am not an angel cliché, Morgan. Think of me as an energy field.”
Morgan spluttered, choking back laughter. “Angel? Don’t be ridiculous,” he muttered. “Stress more like. Come on,” he urged himself, “get a grip,”
“The Guardians have sent me, Morgan. It is time to prepare for the quest.”
The voice was so insistent and distinctive. It didn’t feel like an hallucination.
“The time is upon us, Morgan. Look into the sky”.
Morgan didn’t believe in angels. He only believed in whatever could be proven by experiment or by design. The existence of angels that were energy fields wasn’t logical. So, where had the voice come from? Whatever it was, it surely wasn’t some disembodied spiritual entity. It had to have been dredged up fro some deep part of his subconscious trying to inject much needed courage into his veins. He slowly looked up into a sky where strips of cloud were being carried on a higher wind.
A large blob of orange light caught his attention. It was distinctly brighter even than the watery sun. It was probably some kind of military aircraft. But, something about the intensity of the light and the way it seemed to be focusing on him and entering deep inside him caused Morgan to doubt his perfectly reasonable explanation.
Of course. How could he have forgotten? The comet Cygnus Hyperbole was world news. For a crazy moment he imagined it was the comet with the weird name that was talking to him.
Suddenly he wavered, his legs rubbery as he felt his balance shifting. A cold fear the like of which he had never experienced turned his insides into a feverish mush. He hated Barker at that moment with an intensity that made him want to scream. But it was he, Morgan Lane, who was standing precariously on a two hundred foot cliff preparing to jump and not the rich, egotistical oaf behind him. So, who was the smart one now?
High above the sea, Morgan began to rock to and fro and as he did so a blanket of warm, breathily scented air suddenly enveloped him filling him to the brim with hope and courage. Some powerful outside force was at work but he couldn’t define or locate it. He was all at once immersed in a joyous protective embrace. Oriel’s mesmeric voice penetrated deep into Morgan’s inner being.
“Believe in me, Morgan. Believe.”
Imbued with a sudden and ecstatic injection of utter trust in this strange force, Morgan stood on his toes and extended his arms as though they were wings made of gossamer. He felt light and aerated, his very blood corpuscles floating like bubbles of lighter-than-air gas. Smiling and looking down, he jumped.
He could feel himself supported by an intangible power as he glided in a perfect arc like a bird of prey riding the thermals. The angel’s voice reassured him, bathing him with hope and belief.
“I have you in my arms. The Guardians have chosen you, Morgan. You will come to no harm.”
Morgan began to accelerate. Suddenly, gravity was no longer an academic subject to be studied in the physics lab he realized that now it was too late. It was all too real. As he fell, his life played itself out like a grainy newsreel. He was filled with love for his parents despite being first a little tearaway then later an obsessive recluse and driving them to distraction. He was acutely aware of his strengths and his weaknesses and his many shortcomings and failures. But right then, as he plummeted toward the waves, he accepted everything about his life as being the way it was destined to be.
Morgan experienced time slowing, elongating then stopping altogether.
The disembodied voice seemed to be controlling time itself; enough to whisper to him as he fell.
“I am Oriel, the last Sun Angel in the multiverse. I will be your guide on the quest that is to come.”
“You are to be the bearer of the Cosmic Algorithm, Morgan. The time of the Vanishing is approaching.”
“The second Creation is coming to your world.”
“I will be with you in your time of need.”
Images blurred, whizzing past his vision. Racing up towards him at incredible speed were the two yellow blobs that marked the dive spot. He entered the water with hardly a splash cradled by powerful, invisible arms. He bobbed up spluttering and euphoric and received the thumbs-up from the two divers swimming towards him.
He’d conquered his fear. But, he had had some help. He listened for the voice of the so-called Sun Angel as he floated upon the breaking waves. He wanted to say thank you.
But the angel had gone.
So much for angels or energy fields. It must all have been just a stress induced trick of the mind and the light. But somehow he knew he would never have made it otherwise. But what was all that nonsense about Quests and Algorithms and Vanishings and being chosen by Angels or Guardians, whatever they were? The whole thing was completely unscientific and therefore impossible. Must have disassociated somehow and plundered his mind for anything to keep his fear at bay. He’d obviously been reading too much science fiction.
Later, back at Evanstone, Morgan was surrounded by an admiring mob of students patting him on the back and generally making a fuss of him. He’d been the only one to take on the top challenge that week. Deborah smiled at him and winked, pushing Barker away as she blew Morgan a kiss from those pink lips.
Morgan’s remarkable memory saw him sail through the examinations by storing the entire syllabus in his frontal lobe ready for instant recall and regurgitating answers at will. He finished well before the others then, suitably bored, he diverted himself by attempting to write yet another poem. With all his heart he wanted nothing more than to write beautiful words that moved his mind and soul. Deborah’s wide green eyes swam before him as he sweated over a blue-lined exercise book in his small, austere room overlooking the quadrangle. He daren’t reveal this passion for verse to anyone, especially not to morons like Barker who would use it to ridicule him and drive him further into himself.
Barker came over to Morgan. “Well done, Lane,” he said sounding grouchy. “I’ll admit, I didn’t think you’d have the guts. Your types are usually all hot air.” He gurgled at his own wit. Then he snarled. “But, it’s not over, Lane. Doctor Simpson wants to see you in his office, now.”
Morgan glared at Barker with contempt and pushed him out of the way. As he walked off across the quadrangle towards the main school building he was fingering his mobile phone containing Barker’s recorded voice. And, as he climbed the stairs towards Doctor Simpson’s office, he knew exactly what he was going to do with it.