The Pinnacle of Power

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Technolectro was the place to be in Lúnembril, the megalopolis’ hottest nightspot, where the city’s young and beautiful came together for a few drinks and a wild night in the best nightclub ever.

Well, that was in accordance to the establishment’s advertising campaign, at any rate.

In truth, Technolectro was little more than a crowded, frantic joint, where most patrons would stay till the wee hours of the morning, trying to escape their otherwise empty lives by drowning their worries and frustrations in alcohol.

The crowd gathered at Technolectro was treated to a spectacular display of laser lights, dancing and whirling madly at the pace set by the innovative musical style that had given the club its name. At the same time Technolectro, the musical genre, was the result of repetitive loops and samples that were a tip of the hat to the Technolectronic sciences.

As the club bearing its name, Technolectro the musical style was quite popular; the raucous samples and mixes had become the hottest musical tracks not only in Lúnembril, but also in all major cities across the world. For it seemed to be everywhere these days.

Highly detailed, life-sized holograms of young, sensuous women clad in scant, provocative attire, hovered near a black, flat ceiling rising some ten meters above the ground. Forever captive in neon cubes shaped like cages, the realistic holographic beauties were caught in frantic, suggestive dances with their equally attractive and artificial male partners, like some kind of animals in heat.

Small, round polyplastic tables as black as the ceiling, spread all over the establishment surrounded by tiny leather stools, turned movement into quite an adventure for the club’s service staff and patrons alike.

The atmosphere was chaotic.

Thick tendrils of smoke rose towards the ceiling, rendering visibility almost null. And the throbbing green-blue flashes of the laser cannons supposed to provide illumination inside Technolectro weren’t much help in that sense.

The heavy atmosphere, added to the noisy crowd, turned dancing into an impossibility lest you decide to do it on your own, all cramped up on top of your stool or on the table, which definitely made it hard to meet people and make new friends.

Another attraction that Technolectro the nightclub offered its patrons was the local disc jockey. And, unlike the establishment itself, the man was good. Still, for as good as his samples might be that sort of musical creation could never compare to the wondrous sounds that any good Desert Rox band’s rudivinna player could produce in his electric, eight-string instrument.

At least to the ears of those who’d rather listen to real music, such as one Earlyan Marnes.

How could that robotic, lifeless sound compare to real music, made with real feeling, by real human beings, playing real instruments? It was such a shame to see that the musical taste of most young folk had not changed all that much over the last five years.

All over the world, the young would rather listen to those virtual mixes and samples, as lifeless and repetitive as they were; music, if it could be called that, made more by machines than by flesh and bloods. Obviously Lóudvis, Arthavian and Mérques had to be huge fans of that decadent sound, so devoid of artistry and sensitivity both.

Alas that was far from being the only thing that Earlyan didn’t share in common with his drinking mates at Technolectro tonight.

Well, nobody’s perfect, he reflected. And these three have become the closest thing to friends that I’ve ever had.

“Eighteen years old!” Mérques gave a sharp whistle. “Who would’ve thought it, huh, partner? We’re getting old in a hurry, man!”

“Speak for yourself!” Lóudvis let out a loud guffaw. “Far as I know, I’m still far from hitting my prime, you know? Besides, something tells me our graduation party and Earl’s Name Day are not the only reasons why we’re celebrating tonight. Right, Marnes?”

Earlyan gave a feigned shrug, though a sly smile gave him away all the same. I’m free! I can finally say that I’m free, slam it! “Well, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that, Louie. Truth is your graduation from middle school and my Name Day are important, sure . . . just not as much as finally being out of bastard therapy!

“So yeah, that’s the real reason we’re celebrating tonight. At least that’s the reason I’m having a blast tonight.”

“I’ll drink to that, slam it!” hooted Arthavian excitedly, as his fluorescent spathaka mug went high above the table.

Now, that was a truly spectacular sight indeed, all those mugs and the glasses and the goblets sparkling in the air every time someone made a toast. Like stars twinkling in the midst of a vast, black void the four friend’s mugs crashed hard above the table before each of them swallowed a good, long gulp of brew.

“You sure you’re completely out of the woods now?” mused Art, wiping his lips with his right wrist while sending an inquisitive look at Earlyan as soon as the toast was over. “I mean therapy, man. Truth is I’m not too familiar with health regulations and such, you know?”

“Of course I am!” was Earlyan’s prompt, confident reply.

If Arthavian was trying to spite him by insinuating that he’d never been in therapy himself, Earlyan was not about to take the bait. Not on such a joyous occasion, at any rate.

“As you all know,” he announced, loudly and proudly, “as of tonight, I’m of a legal age. And that means there’s nothing anyone can do to keep me in slammed therapy!”

“Well,” Louie observed quietly, “technically speaking . . . um . . . that’s not entirely true, you know?”

Lóudvis was not trying to goad his friend nor was he trying to be a party-pooper; that was just Louie being Louie.

Forever the most serious and formal amongst the four friends, Lóudvis was the brains of the foursome; the typical boy who always got the best grades in school, and who’d rather stay home to study than go out with his friends.

Well, if truth be told in many ways Louie was the total opposite to Earlyan, beginning with the fact that Earlyan had dropped out of middle school three years ago. Come think of it, it was funny that Lóudvis had accepted his friend’s invitation tonight.

But if someone was well acquainted with official norms and regulations amongst the four friends that had got to be Lóudvis Grebb; a keen, calculating mind that had decided to go into Civil Technolectronics Engineering after graduating from middle school.

“I mean,” resumed the low, gangly boy with the milky white skin and the mop of hair the color of carrot, “technically speaking, the UniCon can keep a patient in therapy even after they’ve reached the legal age, if they’re caught doing something . . . Well, you know, eccentric.

“That way, anyone with a previous record of attending intensive psychotherapy would be back on the shrink’s couch in a blink.”

Earlyan’s loud, dry cackle let his friend know what he thought of that.

If his opinion wasn’t clear however, he made a casual, dismissive gesture with his right hand to lend more weight to his words. “My arse is already flat because of all the slammed time I spent lying on a shrink’s couch, Louie. You bet there’s absolutely no slamming way I’m ever going back to therapy, man!”

In the end, the bastard treatment didn’t even work.

Earlyan had confirmed this after seeing how therapy, tests and the like, had changed nothing at all. His brain was producing more energy now than ever, at least based on the results of the most recent tests, and yet he’d never felt better in his life.

Besides, it was all a scam, he knew now. After he stopped taking the bastard happy pill at thirteen, he’d managed never to consume any kind of medication again. And that didn’t even show up in the results of all the slamming brain tests.

On the other hand, his mind was able to protect itself from those prying brain-mapping and scanning procedures by doing the same as it had always done: drift aimlessly. Yet in spite of it all, he never even came close to suffering a horrible fate, like all those Whiterobes predicted for him when he was a mere toddler.

So at the end of the day, what had been the point of the whole slammed thing? It was personal effort that allowed for him to blend in with the rest of society, not the bastard therapy . . . Though sometimes he still felt like a fish out of the water. And oft times, he felt like he had nothing in common with the folk surrounding him.

Oh well, at least no one treated him like a freak anymore. No, the neuropsychiatric treatment had definitely not changed a thing. And now that he was come of age, there was not a slamming thing that the UniCon could do “to keep him on the shrink’s couch”.

I’m sure the Health Minister has more important things in mind than to keep some nobody in therapy. Especially since his precious treatment didn’t even work in the first place.

That simple fact ought to be enough to keep him far away from clinics, psychotherapists and the like, for the rest of his life. Even though some folk still felt that . . .

“Well,” put in Mérques in a light voice, as if he’d just read his friends thoughts, “we all know how . . . eccentric you can be at times, partner. You just keep on saying you want to move to Donuts, to become some sort of . . . crazy mystician, like all those bums out in the desert, and . . . ”

A sly flash sparkled in his eyes, “Guess what I’m trying to say here’s that I wouldn’t like to see you back on the shrink’s couch . . . Or worse—”

“Dhannus, not Donuts,” Earlyan corrected his friend, his voice as droll as Merky’s. “And I want to become a musician, not a mystician, partner. Is that even a word? Pay attention to what you’re saying first, and then we can talk, aright? Otherwise, it might be you who ends up on the shrink’s couch!”

All four friends let out a loud laugh, Mérques himself included.

His friends were something serious, no doubt. All three loved a good jest . . . at Earlyan’s expense most of the time, though the important thing was he could finally say that he had friends.

It mattered not how different they were to him in truth, or that none of them shared his dreams and hopes. The important thing was that Lóudvis, Mérques and Arthavian liked Earlyan for always being himself, eccentricities and all.

At least that was what it seemed at first glance. But in the end, hanging out with the three lads was certainly better than staying at home, bored out of his mind.

“Hey,” said Art, taking advantage of the opportunity to speak of his own dreams and hopes, “you don’t have to go all the way to the Desert Continent to make music. All you need’s a good cyberdrive, you know, a cyberport or megacyber, the right software, and you’ll be set!

“That way you’ll be able to download as many Techno samples as you like, and put together as many mixes as you want.”

“I wouldn’t dare call this . . . noise music, Art.” Earlyan made circular motions over his head with his forefinger to point at the deafening sounds mercilessly pounding the nightclub’s walls and patrons’ ears alike. “You’ve said it yourself, man. Anyone can put together as many Techno mixes as they please. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.

“I’m talking about putting a real band together, made of real musicians, capable of making real music with real feeling, slam it! Nothing like this boom-boom-boom that numbs the senses and leaves you with a nightmarish headache!”

“Rox,” muttered Lóudvis, the only one amongst Earlyan’s friends who shared his passion and excitement for the gut wrenching, grungy sounds born in the exotic sands of the desert. “First off, Desert Rox might be different, but it’s just as loud and heavy as Techno, if not more so.

“Secondly, are you serious, man? I mean you really think you can earn a decent living from making music out in the desert? Tell me, Marnes, you know how many young folk move out to Ocrecia, hoping to become the great next Rox star, and to find inspiration from the ‘Spark of Life’ and the ‘Awakening of the Conscience’, only to never be seen or heard of ever again?”

“You sound just like my dear Uncle Jean.” Earlyan gave another hearty chuckle.

His friends knew all too well that Jeander Trerotte, mom’s younger brother, was an annoying, meddlesome man if Earlyan had ever known one.

Uncle Jean loved to butt his nose in his nephew’s affairs, always demanding that Earlyan “set his feet on the ground and forget all about his absurd dreams” to come work for him instead, as a sales exec in Uncle Jean’s Technolectronic home appliances store.

Now, that’s one promising future, and make no mistake about it!

“You may have more conventional dreams, Louie,” he concluded, when seriousness was back on his face. “But not me, man. I love to defy conventional!”

“That’s got to be the most foolish thing I’ve heard in my life.” Merky gave a loud cackle, so contagious that Lóudvis and Arthavian joined him at once.

I should’ve known, a resigned Earlyan thought.

Merky’s words always came accompanied by a boldness that was seldom seen in his actions. Mérques Hénnossy was a smart, noble lad, no doubt, though he’d never been known for his ambitious or adventurous nature.

Teaching was a noble profession, to be sure, but Earlyan had never heard of anyone who became rich or famous from teaching in a place like Lúnembril. Much less would Merky be happy for happiness was a concept that escaped the grasp of most Lúnembrili, if not most Akaladians in general.

It was odd that Mérques would be the one to mock Earlyan for choosing a future that might not make him rich or famous perhaps, but it would certainly make him happy.

“What am I telling you, partner?” Merky ‘The Terrible’ went on. “You just keep up this crazy talk and I bet you’ll end up back on the shrink’s couch, faster than the turboplane flies!”

“Perhaps . . . ” Earlyan conceded, reluctantly.

There was no point in discussing his future with his friends when the important thing, as dad had put it once, was what you wanted for yourself, not what others wanted for you.

He spared a brief glance at the ravishing female holograms dancing the night away behind thick neon bars, a shiver running down his spine as he realized that those three-dimensional, life-sized dolls were not so different to their flesh and blood counterparts.

Somehow it felt as if everyone were . . . asleep, as if they all went about life in two dimensions: back and forth or up and down, not pausing even for a second to contemplate the possibility that there might be more to life than what they believed. Everyone seemed pleased with remaining locked in their own neon cages, dancing the night away for no particular reason, like the holograms aloft.

“At any rate,” he muttered to no one in particular, “I’ll never stop fighting for what I want . . . for my convictions.”

“Victory or death!” hollered Arthavian, with feigned solemnity and a mocking grin on his lips. “I’ll drink to that, slam it!”

His mug dangled in the air and white bubbles went flying all over the place as the four mugs collided above the table again.

As the fresh, cool brew bubbled down his throat Earlyan kept reflecting upon the situation. Deep down, he’d always felt that something was terribly wrong with the world at large. It all felt like a giant puzzle, where all the pieces had been set at random or by force, regardless of whether they fit or no.

Or could it be me who doesn’t fit?

Was that the true reason why he’d been subjected to such rigorous treatment since he was a babe? Could he really be the loser and the freak that all his peers at the slammed Green Mound School had made him out to be? Was Earlyan as eccentric as his friends had just implied? Could his condition be related to madness and dementia, rather than to any physical illness?

Whether the problem lie deep inside of him or on the outside world, the thing was that nobody seemed willing to question his or her lot in life, save for Earlyan himself, perhaps.

No one seems to have any dreams and hopes, and nobody wants to concern themselves with existential matters at all.

Then again, what was the point of concerning yourself with such deep matters, when there was nothing other than a sad, little existence, as brief as it was ephemeral?

Again, that went in accordance to the words of one Mister Eadavar Marnes. And dad was the perfect microcosm of Akaladian society in general; an honest, hard-working man who never mounted to much other than a common, ordinary middle-class life in the ‘burbs.

That kind of lifestyle wasn’t all that bad, though it could certainly bore you to death. It was a grey existence, totally devoid of color and flavor. Nothing wrong with that, if you were the sedentary type, but Earlyan was way too restless to settle for such a grey lifestyle. Furthermore, he knew things had not always been as predictable, as grey as all that.

In his teens his great love for fictional stories turned into a deep passion for alternative history and mythology. The good thing about staying home for the last three years was that it gave him plenty of time to browse controversial articles on the Technoweb and to watch some truly fascinating documentaries on the technovisor.

That provided him with clues and leads pointing at a most interesting direction, concealed behind a veil of theories, legends and myths of a distant past that he’d come to learn by heart. If any of those theories were accurate at all, then things had been very different once.

His personal studies suggested that a long time ago Akaladia had been quite a different world, a place where civilization as a whole was on a constant search in order to awaken the Conscience. A few folk continued with the search up to this very day, in the Desert Continent of Ocrecia, as Lóudvis had observed.

To the eyes of the many, however, the histories were nothing but the result of the superstitious beliefs of primitive Akaladians. Topics such as life after death, deities, ghosts, life on other worlds and such, were enough to make most folk burst with laughter.

So it had always been, at least during Earlyan’s lifetime. Still, he couldn’t help but wonder how different life must have been in those early, distant days of great heroes and sinister villains, mighty gods and imposing goddesses and most of all, days filled with . . . magic.

I’m obviously not about to share my thoughts on this with my friends, though, he decided at once.

Bad enough as it were that his friends kept giving him such a hard time for his decision to leave for Ocrecia, insisting to no end that he chose the easy way out instead, by going back to school and leading a normal life, the way they were all planning to do themselves.

His friends’ constant taunts and jokes did not bother him at all. But he didn’t want them to break a rib or two at the expense of eccentric Earlyan Marnes’ deepest, most intimate dreams and hopes, either.

“Very well, gents,” announced Art, soon after the second toast. “This conversation’s been truly fascinating, but I just caught sight of something that requires my complete and immediate attention . . . ”

The huge mountain of brawn named Arthavian Nane’e stood quickly from his stool and left the table he shared with his friends, walking in the direction that had caught his attention so mightily.

The eyes of the three other boys followed the ebony giant till he reached his destination, a table standing some twenty meters away, where a serving girl had just led three beautiful and young newcomers.

Arthavian approached the three girls, one of those typically and irresistibly charming smiles of his plastered on his lips as he did. It didn’t take long for him to make himself comfortable on an empty stool rising between the three girls, and not one of them offered any resistance.

Quite the contrary, Earlyan saw. The three girls greeted the tall, handsome boy with charming smiles of their own before giggling nervously and muttering animatedly amongst themselves.

“Which one caught your eye?” Merky asked Louie with a sly wink.

“I don’t know yet,” said the boy with the rugged features. “It’s hard to make them out at this distance, man, and there’s only three of them, besides. I bet Art’s already made his choice by now.”

He made a brief pause and spared a fleeting glance at Earlyan. “Speaking of wagers, why don’t we make a bet? Loser gets no girl.”

Mérques gave a sharp chuckle and a confident nod. His initial reaction, a brief glance at Lóudvis, completely overlooking Earlyan, made it quite clear that he already suspected who would lose the bet.

Luck would have much to say about that, but taking Earlyan’s luck—or rather, his terrible fortune with the opposite sex—into consideration, he couldn’t blame his friends for ignoring him so blatantly.

All that Louie had in wits and shrewdness, he lacked in looks. Yet his keen intellect helped him greatly with the girls. As for Merky, he was a tall, wiry, olive-skinned boy, with thick lips and a sharp jaw larger than a donkey’s, which made him just a tad easier on the eye than Lóudvis.

In short, Merky ‘The Terrible’ was an average-looking lad. Though if truth be told, that beak of a nose of his and his wiry black hair make him a tad below average to the eye.

Be that as it may, Mérques’ natural charisma and cheery personality more than made up for any physical shortcomings he might have had, and turned him into a good catch in the eyes of many a girl.

As for Earlyan himself . . . well, at one hundred and eighty-eight centimeters tall, with a thin but athletic frame, long hair that hung freely on his shoulders and big eyes, green as emeralds, he was nothing to frown upon.

Quite the opposite, in fact. In many ways, Earlyan could easily rival Arthavian, widely regarded as the most handsome of the four friends. To compensate for any physical inferiority that he might have when compared to his tall, baby-faced friend with the frame of a world-class bodybuilder, Earlyan was far smarter than Art.

He was a fast thinker, a witty, well-educated boy who could hold a conversation with just about anyone and about any subject. Alas he’d never learned how to behave around the girls and his friends knew it all too well.

For some strange reason that he couldn’t even begin to understand, at age eighteen Earlyan had never kissed a girl, let alone have a girlfriend!

“No need to bet, guys,” he said softly, giving his head a slow, reluctant shake. “Why don’t we let them choose, for a change? And that’s only in case those girls show any interest in us, in the first place.”

“Fine with me.” Mérques gave a shrug and Lóudvis limited his reply to a brief, confident nod.

Even if he won the wager Earlyan already knew what would happen. The girl of his choosing would end up with the loser of the bet, with some other boy in the club, or . . .

Well, I’ll be slammed! The notion hit him abruptly. She might even prefer going back to her table and spend the rest of the evening all by herself, rather than spend it with me!

As Merky and Louie predicted Art was back in no time, with the three girls in tow. His long, hulking arms rested placidly around two of his female companions’ shoulders whilst the third girl—and the hottest of the trio by far and wide—walked slowly on her own, a little to the left of the tightly knit group.

She was also the most timid of the three girls, it would seem, for when she was not giggling nervously she’d whisper something in the ear of the girl walking closest to her . . . And she was also all but unable to take her eyes off of Earlyan, he thought.

Did she . . . did she just point straight at me? No way!

That was impossible. The girl was a stunning beauty, the kind who wouldn’t even stop to give him the time of day. It must have been an optical illusion produced by the heavy atmosphere reigning in the club.

Yes, it was all a trick of the neon lights spewed by the laser cannons illuminating black, cavernous Technolectro the nightclub, in addition to the thick wisps of smoke rising in the air . . . and the loud musical samples tormenting the patrons’ ears senseless.

Yeah, that must be it.

As usual, Earlyan’s hyperactive mind was playing a trick on him, a cruel jest like so many it had pulled on him before, with many other girls as lovely as the beautiful brunette with the long hazel brown hair, who was approaching the table.

“Gentlemen,” announced Arthavian with his usual fake seriousness, immediately after he was back at the table, “please allow me to introduce you to our new friends . . . ”

With that typical blend of coyness and shyness of most young women in their late teens, the three girls kept tittering and muttering amongst themselves as they stood next to the table. Earlyan, Lóudvis and Mérques rose from their seats to greet their new friends and to offer them their stools, whilst Arthavian called for one of the serving girls to bring three more stools and another round of drinks.

When the stools arrived Art took his seat next to the girl of his choosing, as Merky had predicted. Much to his chagrin, it was Mérques himself who ended up alone for none of the three girls spared as much as a second glance in his direction, once the introductions were done.

The second girl asked Lóudvis to seat by her side with a warm smile on her lips. And they were soon breaking the ice with a nice, casual chat. Earlyan was speechless when the big, innocent eyes of the long-legged brunette seemed to ask him to seat by her side.

For the first time all night long, he was thankful for the heavy, dense atmosphere surrounding him. Elsewise, the girl would be able to see the goggling look that was briefly plastered on his face. If the girl noticed anything she didn’t show it, a relieved Earlyan saw, as he took his seat on a stool standing about half a meter from her.

All she did was tilt her head to the side to remove the long hair covering her face, still unable to take her gaze away from the tall, lean boy who was seated so close to her now. And when she finally spoke, the girl’s voice was as inviting as it was enticing, contrasting sharply with her juvenile, innocent features, as she introduced herself to her new friend.

“Hi,” she said, cheerily. “What’s your name? I’m Vikiara, but everyone calls me Vicky.”
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