I'd always been called Kendall. My mother had caught some sort of vicious infection before I was born. It marked and twisted me horribly. What marked me killed her. I was born on Aldrys 3, a farming planet. They couldn't cope with my deformities. I was sent off to one of the core worlds for genetic therapy but the ship I was on somehow was re-routed to Cottman 4, an old, cold planet under a dark red star.
There I became a ward of the star base.
I didn't speak much. At first I couldn't pronounce words properly with my deformed face. However, I read and I learned. I had a bright, fierce thirst for all things that I could dig out of books.
One day I was on a bus destined for a local art museum when some sort of attack caused the bus to roll over and its shell was shredded. I was tossed about as the thing was shaken like a bouquet of flowers shedding petals. When everything stopped moving I crawled out of the wreckage and made for a corner of the closest building.
It was what the local bully-boys were waiting for.
I was punched, clubbed, kicked and finally stabbed with a short sword.
I honestly thought that I was going to die there on those filthy cobblestones. Something inside of me reached a final limit. I heard a horrible scream and the sound of thunder.
I awoke in the base hospital. There wasn't a square inch of me that wasn't scorched or blistered. I was dizzy as hell and my headache was, let's just call it 'weapons-grade'. I was seeing 'auras' around everything. I was stuck in that hospital room for what seemed like years. I slowly healed but my skin kept tearing and my broken thigh bone didn't want to fuse.
Team after team interrogated me as to what happened. I said nothing. I simply looked at them. What the hell was I going to say? The world came to an end?
Finally an older man wearing fancy brocaded clothes came to see me. He did something that made my head hurt horribly. I screamed out, "NO!" and passed out.
I woke up. It couldn't have been very long. There were small smoky fires coming from the equipment, the ceiling tiles were destroyed and the old guy was lying upside-down--legs up-- in the corner. I felt something like constant thunder in the back of my mind. It seemed to come from deep below me, but it was damned strong.
Oh, they tried to patch me up, but the way my body healed--or rather didn't heal-- made it an exercise in futility. I got more scars and my mobility was even more limited. My left hand just lay in my lap with the fingers curled. It was a devastating blow.
It wasn't long before the base diplomats received a demand from the Comyn Council for me to appear before them. There wasn't a fucking thing I could do about it. I got angrier and angrier. The thunder in the back of my mind became louder--more real.
I was wheelchair bound and was glad for the escort. The streets were made from cobblestones so old that a person could easily trip in the ruts worn in the stones. I'd been flown from Thendarra to Caer Donn, where the old spaceport was. That's where the council met. It was bloody cold. The air tasted metallic. The winds wouldn't have been so bad if they'd just come from one direction but they changed from moment to moment, making walking difficult. There was nothing allowed off the base that was motorized. Oh, no. That would have made it too easy. I had a good mad on to begin with. When the poor guys carrying my wheelchair around slipped on the ice and dropped the thing I jarred in agony. I was pissed. I panted a few times trying to get a hold of myself.
I realized that I wasn't cold anymore. I'd been curled over trying to protect myself from the wind. Now I relaxed and straightened up, working the cramp out of my lower back. It was damned strange, but I wasn't going to ask any questions that had answers I didn't want to hear.
It was late in the day when I was rolled into a big room. I'd missed lunch and supper. Two more strikes against the day. I had copped an attitude just after noon and it just kept getting better.
Seven old guys in colorful tunics and embroidered vests were sitting behind a big U-shaped table. It was open towards the door. My escort rolled me up to a short stair and left me.
Everybody was, um, wincing like they were in a room with the lights turned up too bright. A tall skinny guy with a white pony-tail stood up from his chair in the middle. He about yelled at me, "Control Yourself!" His voice felt like three hammer blows! I focused on him with everything I had and said, "Go to hell." I felt an echo of the thunder in my head flash towards him. The carpet between us ripped in half like the wake of a jet boat and he fell over backwards. That was the end of that interview.
At least they fed me. A servant took me to a room with a chair, desk, bed, dresser and a small toilet in a side-room. I was finally able to pee. It was awkward balancing on one foot while holding a door jamb and trying to hit the damned hole, but I did a creditable job without pissing on myself. Much. Once I got back into the chair and figured out how to prop my leg up I felt a lot better. Since there was a light over the table I rolled over to it, then fished my day pack off the back of the wheelchair. I'd been working my way through a book on the theory of electromagnetism on my own. I carried it everywhere. As I concentrated on the equations the rumbling I'd been hearing dialed back. I was having as good a time as I'd had since before the bus blew up.
I heard a light knock on the door. Curious, I called out, "Come in.". A young lady--a girl, really as she had no hips or figure, preceded a servant pushing a serving cart. She looked about the room and scowled. "This will never do! The fire has not been set, there is no fruit nor cheese plate left for you, not even a drop of wine!" She turned to the servant. "Gerald, Go fetch help and get this room properly prepared for guests. I shall serve as hostess." He dropped a quick nod with a finger to his brow, grinned and scooted. I could tell that she was on good terms with the help. That put her head and shoulders above the people I'd met in that frozen pile of rocks before that. Hell, I'd not even noted the cold. Something inside me kept me warm and toasty. I'd thrown off my blanket and sat in shirtsleeves.
The girl turned to me and curtsied, of all things! I returned with the deepest bow I could, as my motions were confined by the chair. "Greetings, young lady. I would rise and give you courtesy but for my leg, as the cannon bone is broken."
A look of concern flashed over her face but it was quickly replaced by a calm, pleasant look. "I am Isobel. I have been tasked with making you comfortable during your stay. The kitchens have prepared an early supper. Shall I serve?"
"Of course, but only if there is a place setting for you as well."
Her wonderful attitude surfaced again as she danced around the table, laying out a service for two and placing covered warming dishes here and there. A team of four servants entered to prepare and light the fireplace, light a small chandelier over the table and, after covering a sideboard with a tablecloth, laid out trays of candied fruits, cheeses and nuts. Gerald assisted her with the heavy chair while I rolled up to the other side of the table. He then poured glasses of water and large goblets of wine for both of us. He nodded with a smile and ushered his team out the door.
"Well, that was something! Shall we see what the kitchen has prepared for us?" The table was shallow enough for me to reach all but a couple of the dishes. I removed the warming covers to the cart where I also found the serving spoons.
We had sliced pork, mashed potatoes, root vegetables in cheese sauce and a lemony gravy for the meat. It was all quite good--better than I'd had before. After tasting the dishes I remarked, "This is quite good. I haven't had such a wonderful meal before, and to have it with a pretty young lady across the table just takes it all to the sublime."
She blushed prettily and grinned. We each had a slice of warmed raisin pie for desert, which about did me in. I helped clear the table back to the cart as I could, then we sat once again. "I hope that I might answer some of the questions you must harbor."
I nodded. "Thank you. This is much less confrontational than what occurred in the hall."
"First, to clear the air we have to agree on some background and terms. Do you know what Laran is?"
"No, not really. I've heard the term used, along with TP, PK and others but it's all over the horizon for me."
She sat back and sighed. Then she started quietly talking. "A bit over sixteen hundred years ago three colony ships arrived here from Earth. The cold and lack of food almost killed them, but a few survived. What they didn't know was the planet was already inhabited by a very old race that was in decline. The Chieri were star-farers when man was learning to use nets to fish. Once more, they were quite powerful telepaths. The races were mutually attracted to each other and, what's more, were cross-fertile. In this way dominant talents for various forms of telepathy rose. To make matters more complicated, a naturally occurring mineral acts like a psychic resonator. It changes a person and is changed by a person in what is called a bonding. If you see a bright blue or blue-green crystal with bright lines inside it, turn away and definitely don't touch it! If it's tuned to someone, just touching it can kill them."
All this came out of the blue for me. It explained a few things I'd heard, but why tell me? "All this sounds like something that should be held secret. Why tell me?"
She flatly said, "You have Laran."
I shook my head. "No way. I was born half-way down this spiral arm."
She shrugged her shoulders. "Tell me what happened over the last month. I might be able to explain things."
I started in with the bus trip, the explosion, the beating, then feeling the sword push through my arm-pit. Then I woke up bruised, battered, burned and in shock in the base hospital.
She retrieved a tablet from the serving cart. It was a holographic display. "This was taken from the place you were found." She turned it on. It looked like a small nuclear weapon had gone off. But then, I noticed that the bus was untouched from the way I'd seen it when I fled for cover. The other direction, though--the stone wall was partially melted and had run like thick clay in a rainstorm. The surface was glassy and crazed. There were blackened outlines of my attackers laid out on the ground. Buttons, shoe-buckles, coins and knives were left, but distorted--partially melted. "What the hell did that?"
"You did that."
"You must accept it. Your powers burst free uncontrolled to save your life. The reflected heat burned you severely, but nothing like what it did to your assailants. It burned their bones to ash. Not even their boot-heels survived."
I was bemused. "No wonder they kept giving me the third degree. They must have been frustrated to no end when I just lay there and scowled at them. Say, who was the old guy in the brocades that visited me? He did something, something to my head. The next thing I knew it looked like a bomb went off. He was laying against the wall like he'd been thrown there and fell to the floor. Everything else was on fire. Ever since then I've had this rumbling, roaring noise in my ears. When I get angry it gets stronger. No, it gets a LOT stronger. When I was studying my math it calmed down so that I barely noticed it."
I looked over at her. Her face was white. Her fingers were white where she was grabbing the chair arms. I was concerned for her. I quietly asked, "Are you all right? You don't look well."
She took a deep breath and let it out. "I shall be fine. It's just not every day I find myself sitting across the table from a ticking bomb."
I shook my head. "I wouldn't hurt you for anything. I saw the way you treated the help and the way they reacted. You're a good kid."
"How can I explain it? You have more power at your fingertips than you can possibly realize. The part of you that controls it has no restraint, no conscience and no morals. You could be startled and blow this wing of the castle apart out of reflex." She looked around then walked over to a pair of hangings. She spread them open to reveal a pair of doors covered with small glass panes. She had to work at it, but got them open. "Come out here to the balcony. I wish to show you something."
I followed her out onto the stone platform. She sure had me curious. "Stretch out your arm, palm up. Good. Now make a cup as if you were holding a sphere. All right, here comes the surprise. Breathe from your belly. Feel the stones beneath you. Feel the stone of the foundation connecting deep into the ground. Now, relax your focus but keep watching your hand. Point the cup straight up and gently call fire."
It was crazy, but I could feel the stone. I exhaled and commanded, "Fire!" A violet-white jet of flame shot into the night sky. Some part of me cackled and danced. I gently closed my hand, shutting off the flame jet with a snap. All the snow on the balcony had melted. The silence was scary by comparison. "Impressive."
"Umm, I was hoping for something like a candle flame!"
"I think you've proved your point. Let's get back inside out of the wind, shall we?" She had a much easier time closing the doors than she did opening them as the ice and snow were gone from the balcony. We went back to the table. I had another slice of raisin pie. I was a bit hungry for some reason.
"Would you please believe me now that you need training?"
I scratched the back of my head and grimaced. "Yeah, I pretty well have to believe now." I sat thinking for a bit. "Say, can you tell me what happed in the hall when I got here? Some nasty old guy with a white pony tail tried to hammer me, but I knocked him ass over tea-kettle. That pretty well ended the party."
She looked at me as if I'd grown a horn in the middle of my forehead. "Y-y-you decked LORD ALTON?"
"Yup. He really had me pissed off. His words hit like hammer blows. I put up my hand like this", I raised my hand with my palm out and finger-tips up, "and 'pushed' at him, hard. The carpet between us tore in two and he sailed backward over his chair."
I heard her mumble to herself "By Zandru's hairy nuts" and watched her shake her head. "We must get you out of the castle, to somewhere safe. You made a bad enemy. Then we'll work on getting you healed and trained."
"Whoever you find had better be nice like you. If anyone craps on me I can't help but get angry. I don't want the walls to cave in unless that Alton guy is under 'em."
It wasn't long before I found myself on a litter, then strapped down in a float-car. This little bit of high tech was supposedly illegal to use outside of the bases without diplomatic permission, but 'dem dat makes the rules breaks da rules'. There were six of us that took a wild ride through a mountain storm that night. We landed in a protected courtyard in the city of Carthon, far to the east, on the edge of the dry plains. The city stayed alive by being at the confluence of two rivers. I learned later that Carthon was a real bread-basket of a city, with irrigated fields in all directions following the water.
Isobel had a cousin, Terrilyn, who was a healer. Isobel called her to come help because she was notoriously sweet-natured. It didn't hurt that she was gorgeous, with golden-red tresses that flowed across her breasts and covered her chest. I shivered at her touch. Later I found that she did that to everyone! It was no wonder that she made a marvellous healer.
I was settled into a chair in the sunlight and given a little blue stone about the size of my littlest finger joint. Isobel explained that it was my own personal matrix stone. I should study it to stabilize my erratic skills. It was wrapped in a heavy leather pouch that had been skived with lead-bearing thread. Under that was a silk handkerchief and under that a soft-tanned doeskin bag. After working through all the layers the stone tumbled out onto my palm. It was darker than cornflowers, yet lighter than the deep sea. It was both transparent and opaque. It was filled with ... possibilities. The tiny silvery lines fluoresced in a pattern that was just at the tip of my tongue.
I blurred my vision to look at it as a whole. I almost lost my breath as I found myself as a moving point of light among billions of others, each of a slightly different color and brightness, all of them changing constantly. I began to see traces--wisps of spider webs between them. I knew that Terrilyn was about to open the door. I shifted my focus onto her.
She acted as if she'd run into a door then sank to her knees. "Lord! Please! I cannot bear such rapport!"
I realized that my focus had somehow harmed her. I relaxed and closed my eyes. "I apologize, Terrilyn. I once learned a form of concentration while studying higher mathematics. I applied that to my exploration of the crystal." I smiled at her. "I believe that I've discovered a training trick, no?"
"Lord, your 'training trick' is capable of shattering rock and destroying minds."
"Really." I'd have to practice this new form of focus. My visualization tricks to visualize an equation in 4D seem to have a real-world application beyond anything I'd dreamed of.
She shakily stood and slowly approached me. "Now that you have found your focus, gently--I say GENTLY--bring it forth again to scan your body."
I did what she told me to. Damned if I didn't look like I'd been beaten with an ugly stick on one side and had a good dose of stomp added for good measure. There was a yellow-orange mess of something around my broken thigh bone. I concentrated on that, then -pushed-. It looked healthier immediately. I went from battle zone to battle zone, changing the colors from something ugly to a pleasant dark-green glow. When I came up for air I felt like I'd gone twelve rounds with a blacksmith. I opened my eyes to see eight people standing in a ring around me, holding hands. I felt a low level of energy coming from them. I was groggy but my enhanced vision focussed on the fire in the hearth. I raised a shaky hand towards it and -pulled-. The fire went out, the previously burning wood was cold charcoal and the temperature of the room dropped ten degrees. I felt a hell of a lot better. I pulled in a breath and explosively let it out. When I looked at Terrilyn she grinned at me. "Lord, you weren't supposed to heal a lifetime's insults in a clock turning." She glanced at the circle standing around like maundered buffalo. "Our thanks for not pulling the lives out of our tower telepaths as well."
I found myself too tired to do more that evening than to fall asleep.
We dove deep into my body to correct its failings each day for weeks. Eventually there was nothing more to remedy. I was able to easily walk across the floor and use both hands. Both my eyes answered to my call. It was quite a change!
Later an older leronis came to visit. She had an odd personality. I felt that she would have been happier as a tree-squirrel for she darted here and there in her curiosity. I laughed and felt tempted to offer my arm for her to climb my shoulder. We got along famously.
"Now that you have learned to focus, have healed yourself and have learned to draw power it's time to investigate the core of your power."
I felt that working fully under her teaching would leave me vulnerable to others that had access to her knowledge of my training. Despite her teachings each night I built up a redoubt--a deep bunker within my mind that would resist all commands and hold a furnace of power solidly within my mind. I worked on strengthening that redoubt and strengthening the reservoirs of power held deep within me. I held them under multiple layers of shields so that none would be aware of my reserved weapons. Rather than put my faith in a single bolt I formed thirty-two individual reservoirs and channels. I learned from my initial experiences and incorporated a shield into each one so that each release would focus out upon an enemy rather than be reflected back upon the caster--me!
We determined that it was no fluke that I perceived a roaring, rumbling sound when defensive or angry. This explained my ability to draw power from flame as well. I drew power from deep beneath the crust
I was adopted into the Greystone clan by Victor, Lord of Carthon. I found it bittersweet that I was needed for my genes to bring life into the dying clan. All my life I'd been harried and ridiculed as a mutant due to the viral weapon my mother contracted while I was in the womb. Oh, yes--I was a mutant all right. A mutant with the ability to repay many old insults. A mutant with a long memory.
I was trained in the history of Darkover and learned the terrible price of injured honor combined with great personal power. I resolved to put away my injuries no matter how they ate into me unless they were thrown into my face once again. Only then would I prove myself on their bodies and minds.
I learned to use my peculiar focus to taste the minds of others. I had so much power at hand that I took part in the training to become an under-keeper. Normally this would have kept me from the breeding lists as copious use of Laran tended to numb the nerve channels that reproduction employed. I seemed to be immune from this, much to Lord Victor's delight.
I seemed to be quite popular with the ladies though I was ignored upon meeting them after the fact. This first perturbed me, then disgusted me. I mentioned this to Terrilyn. She was good enough to explain that the breeding lists were maintained by the grandmothers and all clan members obeyed their demands yet this had no effect on the social standing of various members of the clan. This high-handed behavior made me feel quite put upon. I determined to have my revenge. However, it would all be done out of sheer altruism. Well, that was my story and I was sticking to it.
I begged an appointment to speak with the grandmothers. They were all old telepaths, white haired, wrinkled and skilled to a phenomenal degree. I cast my mind back to the books I'd read while sequestered behind the walls of the star base. Out of sheer desperation I had read everything, including many medical texts. I brought to mind a book on pre-natal health and child-care which emphasized a certain level of cardio health for the mothers-to-be as well as a long-agreed-upon list of pre-natal vitamins. The book also explored the problems encountered when the pregnant women indulged in various substances such as alcohol. They pulled it all straight from my head--I didn't have to say a word.
Within a week I witnessed sweating cows puffing and blowing their way up and down stairs on their way to better health. Isobel picked it out of me after a late meal. "You didn't! You did!" The peans of her giggles brightened the room.
As a clan member I had to be able to defend myself and my honor with steel weapons. The great compact was in force which prohibited any man or woman from using a weapon that killed or injured at a distance. That meant I couldn't just blast the hell out of someone if I were threatened. Now, since I was an under-keeper if I were a member of a party that was taken by laying in wait or by overwhelming numbers then I was permitted to use laran.
The grizzled old swordsman despaired of my living through my first crossing of blades. I was pretty bummed out myself. I woke one night soon after that thinking about Musashi, a great Japanese warrior that defeated master swordsmen with a staff. The next morning I inquired into getting a six foot staff. I found myself supplied with everything from supple wands to a great two-handed shillelagh with a huge polished root knob on one end. Jeez! I didn't have the shoulders of a blacksmith! I found a couple nice straight shafts, one about two finger across, one about three. I took those two back to my chambers to work with. The lord's swordsman heard about my choices and breathed a sigh of relief. My blood would no longer be on his hands.
The staff was a dry-town weapon. There were many experts in its use in Carthon. My painfully learned skills as an under-keeper served me well. I read the stick-fighting skills from half a dozen old warriors into my body. Then I found an empty courtyard and began to practice. I found that the smaller staff was too flexible yet the larger one was too bulky for my grip.
I found the answer in a dream. Ribbons. I saw ribbons of power flow into and out of my stone. Ribbons that I could control. Ribbons that could crush. Perhaps I could use such a technique to compress the larger staff to a smaller diameter, thus making it denser and more resistant to damage.
After a heavy breakfast I lay the larger of the two staves on a work table and sat back from it a good distance. I imagined wrapping it in ribbons of force, weaving and layering them so that no possible space was left uncovered. Then I squeeeezed it. Regrettably I didn't monitor the process close enough. The resultant staff was barely a finger and a half wide, black and glossy. It rang like steel when tapped against the castle's stone floor. I took a stance and began to fight with the staff. The surface was too smooth and it slipped in my grasp. I sat down once again and contemplated how to fashion grips for the thing that would not detract from its strength or add much weight.