Midnight bled into the blue-black ocean so seamlessly it was hard to tell where the heavens ended and the water began. Indeed, if it weren’t for the diamonds overhead, the tiny boat would find itself imprisoned inside the heart of an endless abyss.
This is very likely the most peaceful, beautiful place on earth. This thought ran through his head as he lifted the paddle from the ink. Only the dark emaciated figure inside that boat was there to enjoy it – making it all the more astounding in his isolation.
Stabbing the oar into the black sea, aching arms dragged it back, only to tilt the resin blade to jab the other end in, working off sheer stubbornness to keep moving. Somehow he continued to repeat this motion for miles. This wasn’t anything new; this was a distance traveled many times by the boat and its rider. Yet this night it felt impossible.
“Stop complaining, you’re already halfway there,” a coarse voice lectured those wailing arms and burning back.
Halfway there. Halfway to his destination – a tiny island hosting state-of-the-art science labs. There were important things only available in those labs. Once those things were in hand, he could rest. No one was awake at this hour to see – to catch – something so insubstantial as the sneaking skeleton.
After what felt like hours to the bone-thin child skimming along the water’s surface, a dark silhouette of land showed itself. At first this seemed like a mirage – how could land actually exist this far out? But the closer it drew, the more it seemed tenable. Relief was overpowering when the bottom of the kayak slid against wet sand. Now to tackle the hill…
Just as his arms complained the entire journey here, his legs protested when straightened – screaming they couldn’t take any more abuse – only to be compelled upward. One unsteady step at a time brought the dark building – the goal – closer in reach. With the destination in view their pace stabilized. How hard is it to trade a body in for a new one? But it did get me here…
“What’re you doing, Ferdinan?”
Heart pounding, Ferdinan jumped away from the security panel, spinning around and nearly falling over his own feet. There before him stood the only other person with access to this particular lab building – Jon Dinta. The older child loomed – quite the feat considering they were the same height – looking far too amused at Ferdinan’s reaction.
“Wh-what are you doing here?!” Ferdinan stammered at being caught by the son of his country’s most powerful ally.
“I’ve got permission to be here. The better question is, what’re you doing here – sneaking in so late? Curfew was hours ago,” Jon spoke down to his fourteen-year-old schoolmate as he leaned back, crossing his arms. Everything about Jon’s stance screamed “This ought to be good”.
Remembering his place in society as compared to Jon’s, Ferdinan bowed. “I apologize, Jon Dinta. I’ve got things in there I need to keep an eye on.” What in the world is he doing here?
“Why not just get permission?” Jon scrunched his face when his ally used his title. It didn’t matter that it annoyed Jon, as far as Ferdinan was concerned they didn’t interact enough not to be respectful. Since a Dinta was equivalent to a Prince, Jon most definitely out ranked Ferdinan who was nothing more than a Lord. Even if Ferdinan was one for causal speak, his lower position wouldn’t allow him to drop a higher ranking title.
The two boys standing next to each other was reminiscent of looking into funhouse mirrors. Ferdinan easily matched Jon for height – despite their half year age difference – and many of their facial features were the same. If Ferdinan were to gain thirty pounds and straighten his hair, they could easily be mistaken for each other. The only difference that couldn’t be reconciled was the color of their eyes. Rich, chocolate brown eyes blended with Jon’s hair, while Ferdinan’s crystal blue stood out starkly.
Daring a look at his ally, Ferdinan could see just how annoyed Jon was – and not simply because he was sneaking in so late. It was no secret that the boy didn’t think Ferdinan should be here. This didn’t bother Ferdinan. What did put him on edge was Jon’s insatiable desire to feed people. Given the chance, he knew his ally would force food down his throat until he met Jon’s standard of “healthy”.
Admitting Jon’s question had merit wasn’t something he wanted to do. Blushing, Ferdinan straightened and returned to the security panel. “They don’t allow students to spend more than one night a month. You know that.”
A huff sounded at that before an incredulous attitude entered his ally’s voice. “What’re you doing?”
“What does it look like?” Ferdinan responded with annoyance, returning to his task of deleting the record of his being here.
“It’s stupid to delete the log when you can alter it.”
What business is it of yours? Blushing even harder, Ferdinan glued his eyes on the floor. “It’s easier to delete it, and I don’t risk getting caught tripping over the record’s security system.”
“It’s real easy.” Jon moved just enough for Ferdinan to watch. Soon enough his ally had the log altered to say he entered his suite seven hours ago. “You just have to make sure you fully bypass the passcode system. Though you haven’t explained why you’re just now arriving. Boats are locked, and the bridge is closed.”
There was an ulterior motive behind his ally’s helpfulness. There had to be. If Ferdinan were to make a guess, it probably had to do with Jon’s family. Allies or not, what right did the Artimuses have to keep tabs on him? Aside from breaking curfew on occasion and not always going to class when he should, Ferdinan didn’t do anything worthy of attention – purposefully so.
Giving his ally another bow, Ferdinan grumbled a thanks and slipped into the room. Before Jon had a chance to follow, or ask more questions, Ferdinan slammed the door shut. Activating the locks was all it took to get his ally to mumble something about him being rude and ungrateful. This didn’t matter, he had more important things to attend to at the moment.
Besides, regardless of how much his ally grumbled, as far as Ferdinan was concerned, Jon was the intruder. The building was his for two years before Jon finally earned a lab. Ferdinan knew why the child choose this building, but it still irritated him. There were a dozen to choose from. Why this one? It’s not that hard to install an oven.
Regardless of how pure his ally’s intentions were, the older boy just gave him something rather useful. With how rough the last year was, Ferdinan felt certain all the administrators needed was a small push to look deeper into his activities. Now he knew how to make those logs look innocent and boring enough to avoid attention.
Making his way to the back of his lab, Ferdinan entered the storage closet he’d converted into something just short of a living area. Walking past a rather large, comfortable looking, stuffed sack, Ferdinan continued on to the bathroom. It wasn’t all that big, but was sufficient for what he needed, though it’d been tricky converting the emergency shower into a regular one.
Sitting on a stool with his back to the wall mirror, Ferdinand went to work unbuttoning his shirt. He gingerly slid it off and did the same for the next four shirts underneath. The last was a stretchy, skin-tight vest piece which zipped closed. This one was far more painful to take off as he had to be careful to also remove the medical pad which covered his back. Examining the dressing critically, there was no sign of blood or infection, so he set it aside.
Grabbing a hand mirror and holding it up, he looked to see how well he was healing. Nearly a dozen lacerations were scattered haphazardly up and down his back – emphasizing every rib and nob of his spine. The gashes were still rather large, but they’d improved considerably.
“It’s what you get for failing, Ferdinan. It’s not like you haven’t been warned for over a decade,” he lectured his reflection.
Berating himself finished, Ferdinan reached for a metallic container and opened it. Inside was a white powder and a soft cloth wrapped around a sponge. This powder was a nice little creation he’d engineered. Not only did it decrease healing time, but it also prevented infection. In this form, all Ferdinan had to do was dust the wound and cover it. Most injuries he could reach and care for easily, but this was invaluable for damage dealt to his back. With a sigh, he went to work tending to his wounds.
Picking up what looked like a clear sheet of glass about the size of a text book, Ferdinan tapped it, bringing the screen to life. According to the clock in the top corner, it was just after midnight. I’m getting faster at treating my back at least. “Seven more hours until sunrise? Might as well get to work.”
Pulling up a box to access his messages, Ferdinan tried not to think about how bad a habit it was to talk to himself. The first few messages were fairly benign – but the fourth was less pleasant. Another rejection, it was the fourth one this week. Everyone was grateful for Ferdinan’s “desire to improve the human condition”, but his regeneration powder was another deemed “unnecessary.” Why is it so hard to get people to overlook the fact I’m a scientist? Healers aren’t the only ones who can make medical materials.
Such antiquated ideas were laid down centuries ago. It didn’t seem to matter that the group who’d done this was ultimately rejected a hundred years later, people still held onto what the Council decided was proper and improper. Even today very few questioned it – making his efforts all the more fruitless.
Pulling up a new box on the screen, Ferdinan walked back to his closet to inspect supplies. The list needed to be submitted by morning or he’d have to wait another two weeks before he’d be able to request more. Inventory never took long, but he liked to make sure he kept up on this. Running out of material in the middle of a task could ruin the entire project. And being on these islands in the middle of nowhere made it impossible to run out at grab what you needed. This wasn’t as bad as it seemed – if he’d been at home his ability to create and invent would be severely hampered.
Here at this school, however, cut off from the rest of the world, he and the rest of the students were safe. Here they could able to learn how to control and improve their innate abilities. Here there was no fear of a populace who’d most likely hunt them down as the improper freaks they were. For those like Ferdinan – the Scientists – this wasn’t too bad. It’s much easier to hide an ability which resides in intellect and imagination. However, regardless of how well they hid their gifts, they’d never be able to test their limits or find their potential if they were always worried about being discovered. The Artists were just as easy to hide, as were the Athletes – assuming they held themselves back. But the others…
Though he’d never admit it, Ferdinan always felt sorry for those who manipulated forces. Energists, Psychs, and Healers could bend various energies to their wills, but if this was found out, it couldn’t simply be explained away as a burst of adrenaline or a genius idea that came out of nowhere. How does one explain to a normal person how they move objects without touching them? Even intuition can’t cover reacting to what others are thinking and feeling at any given time. And well, Healers… How hard is it to know all you have to do is touch someone to make them better, but have to hold yourself back?
Even if Ferdinan did pity those with these abilities, there was no love lost between him and the Psychs and Healers. No one had any right in his head, neither did he want anyone to touch him. As long as they stayed far from him though, he could sympathize.
“How is it we can communicate instantly, but still have to wait a week for a boat to reach us? Hmmm…It’s just as well. If travel was easier this place wouldn’t be a secret for very long.” Checking over the last shelf, he added to his supply request, then sent it off. “What do I need to accomplish today?”
Pulling up the scheduled for the day, Ferdinan studied it. He’d be able to accomplish so much more if he didn’t have to keep going to pointless classes. It didn’t seem to matter that he’d finished general classes some time. Yes, he could probably make a complaint, but doing so would put him in the path of the powers that be. None of the adults were hard to deal with – for the most part – but it was much easier to do what he wanted when he stayed to the shadows. All the troubles he avoided by staying out the way made it worth putting up this massive waste of time.
“If I use Master Fulason’s project to introduce proper handling of compression tweezers, I can speed up work and give Lord Elbarrat actual experience using them…hmmm.” There was nothing about Fulason’s requested machine that was so intricate he couldn’t fix it if his mentee caused any damage. “That’d open up enough time for me to start on the next batch of medical disks sooner…I think –”
Dizziness hit hard and strong, forcing Ferdinan to drop the screen and latch onto the table for support. These episodes were coming more frequently, but it was simply a part of the process. I just have to hold out a little longer. Just a little longer – once the hunger subsided he’d be home free. This wasn’t the first time he’d pushed himself to this point, but it’d be the last. Going through the process to get to where he needed to be was too stressful. This time he’d wouldn’t give it up – no matter what anyone said. It’s not like anyone but the Duchess had any say. I’ll succeed this time. I won’t fail.
With a few deep breaths, the wave passed and he was able to focus on work again. Jon was two labs down so he couldn’t get to work on any of his noisier projects, but he always had a list of things to do. A table in the far corner of his lab hosted the equipment he used to make his medical disks.
Sitting down, he grabbed a case and started layering the micro boards and connecting them. These little things weren’t able to heal you, but like a Healer, they could tell you what’s wrong. All you had to do was place it to your chest and tell it to scan. It didn’t take any time for it to read through your body and analyze the data it collected. Anyone could use them – despite how complicated they were to build and program – they were easy to use. Why doing such tedious tasks was so relaxing, Ferdinan couldn’t say, but he started on the disk, and continued to work, until he woke up some time later.
Ugh…when did I fall asleep? Checking the time, he realized it didn’t matter when, class already started. “Show up late or stay here and get things done?”
This wasn’t a hard choice. The only sound to permeate the building were the clinks and whacks created as Ferdinan steadily worked through the day. At some point a chime sang through the room, announcing a message. The moment Ferdinan saw it was from the Superintendent, he decided to ignore it. It did remind him he needed to submit an absentee slip, though. None of his instructors accepted them due to how often he missed, but at the very least he could say he did the proper paperwork. Besides, He was sick often enough they just assumed that’s why he wasn’t in class.
Leaving those thoughts behind him, Ferdinan approached Fulason’s machine and got to work. The harshness of clanging metal was the only sound in the building until Jon retuned to the lab two doors down. The work his ally did wasn’t noisy in the least – and yet it was never quite when the child was there. All the noise which came from that lab was due to the visitors his ally had. From the time Jon entered that lab until the child left it two hours later, half a dozen people came in and out. The conversations Jon had with them were loud and distracting, but Ferdinan grit his teeth and waited for his apprentice to arrive. Guess I should get ready for Lord Elbarrat.
That meant getting this machine ready. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but it was being troublesome. Tapping a screwdriver against the metal table, Ferdinan couldn’t figure out what Master Fulason’s men had done, but it was proving spectacularly difficult. Structurally, everything was right, the programming was fine, and it was wired together properly. This meant it was most likely a circuitry problem. Considering how many boards were in the oddly shaped box, finding the mistake would take a while. The problem was, he couldn’t get the panel to open from the outside. How in the world it got jammed shut was beyond him, but it was his job to fix this thing.
“Well, standing around complaining won’t get it working,” Ferdinan told himself and started disassembling it again.
Halfway through taking apart the box, another wave of dizziness nearly toppled him to the ground. Bringing both hands down hard on the table, Ferdinan tried steadying himself. Sliding his hands along the cold metal surface, he reached for the edge and held on tightly as if this would stop the sensation. But even when he closed his eyes everything still swam in eddies around him. Gasping in a breath, Ferdinan opened his eyes only to be hit with nausea. This was rather inconvenient timing as he was expecting his student soon.
Squatting down and rolling himself to his hands and knees, he took in slow, steady breaths. An odd tingling sensation filled his entire body overtaking his vision. Somewhere a million miles away a soft, dainty chime sounded. Wrapping an arm around his stomach, he tried to remember where he was in the lab. Am I hidden or can I be seen from the window? He’d only started hoping for the former when everything went black.