Charles stood by the fire, its warm, bright light reflecting off his face. His snowy white wings seemed to glow in the light, and the red-tip markings on them stood out like flecks of blood. He looked around the campfire and one by one, caught our eyes.
Before he was about to speak Nic shifted in his seat as I moved to sit in his lap. After Jonathan had fallen asleep, Cody motioned for Nic to let him hold the little boy for a while, and so Nic transferred the sleeping little angel to Cody. Sound asleep Jonathan was cute, small, and cuddly, and I could understand why Cody wanted to hold him. Cody, the perennial affectionate boy, seemed to delight in being kind and friendly. His natural outgoing and gregarious nature always made him pleasant company.
As I settled into place, Nic lightly kissed the back of my neck, and I laid my head against his shoulder. I had taken off my sandals and was lightly rubbing my bare right foot against the back of his left leg.
“You’re smelling very nice tonight, Jamie,” he said whispering in my ear.
“It must have been the bath I had after we stopped to set up camp,” I whispered back. There had been a stream not too far from where we’ settled for the night. I decided to cleanse myself of the many days of dirt and sweat that had accumulated on my body and even though the water was cold it was refreshing, and finally feeling clean again was worth all the shivering and chattering teeth.
“I think you’re smelling the essence of the root Luc gave me,” I added. “Right before I left to take my bath, he gave me some roots that he cut into small pieces. He said that if I washed my hair with them, it would not only get it clean, but also make it smell nice. I guess it worked.”
“It did,” Nic said, now putting his face into my hair. I could feel his warm breath and listened as he took in a deep breath. “It smells very nice.”
“Ahem,” Charles cleared his throat loudly. “I thought everyone wanted to hear more of our history?”
I turned and gave him an annoyed look.
“He’s allowed to smell my hair, Charles.” I replied, frowning.
Nic, looking a little sheepish, as if he had been caught doing something wrong, averted his eyes for a few seconds, and then he looked up and as if to change the subject began to speak.
“You were telling us how the scientists decided to create a new species that would be immune to the disease,” he said, addressing Charles.
As if on cue, Cody jumped into the conversation, “Charles, how do you create a new species?”
“Well if you’re all finally ready for me to continue,” Charles said curtly, his eyebrows furrowing downward in a glare.
“I was just getting comfortable.” I snapped back.
“All right, Jamie,” Nic said, wrapping his arms around me. “Let’s allow Charles to carry on.”
“Thank you Nic,” Charles said clearing his throat once more. “I’ve already mentioned the scientist Croal. It was he and his team of scientists, they began their work on a species that would be immune to the disease, and would also be able to govern the world they would eventually inherit.”
“There were many considerations involved. As I was telling Jamie, Croal was a proponent of a science known as Systems Complexity, a theory some scientists referred to as Chaos. Minoton and his disciples totally disagreed with this theory. They believed in a tightly structured and ordered world – and this belief is what eventually proved to be their downfall when the plague was unleashed.”
“As Croal engaged in his work, he took his beliefs into account so that he could create a species that would not only to be immune to the disease, but would also have the capacity to possess high levels of intelligence, in order to survive. Croal’s key consideration was that its members had to be highly adaptive to change and the chaotic nature of the universe. Croal also knew that a remnant of his own species would survive, and that for centuries they would be hurled into ignorance and darkness. The new species they were creating would have to be able to survive a coexistence with the old species – a coexistence that might well be hostile. He had no illusions about the nature of his species in such a degraded state, you see.”
At the word “hostile,” I immediately frowned. Except for Zakaria’s surprising behavior and Luc’s easygoing acceptance of us, hostility was all we’d encountered since we awakened into this strange world. I suddenly became tempted to offer a sarcastic remark, until I looked down at Jonathan sleeping in Cody’s lap. The little boy seemed so peaceful and safe in his arms that I decided picking a fight with Charles would only needlessly stir everyone up, so I kept quiet and allowed Charles to continue.
“Croal was a brilliant geneticist, but he was reluctant to totally and completely play god in the creation of an entirely new species. Taking his beliefs in system complexity into account, he felt that if the new species were engineered along rigid and strict guidelines, its capacity for change and adaptation would be sacrificed. So he opted for a process involving more of a natural selection than a highly controlled one, and hoped that this choice would lead to a species with a greater chance of survival.”
“As he set about his work, Croal decided that he would control only two factors in the creation of the new species. The first was, of course, immunity to the disease, and the second was an ability to develop and rapidly attain great intelligence. All other factors would be left completely to random chance and the eventual natural physical, social, and emotional evolution of the new species as it assumed the task of becoming viable and self-sustaining.”
“So what happened?” Cody interrupted.
“I guess he succeeded,” I said smiling. “Look around, here we are. Right Charles?”
“Yes, but it wasn’t that easy. As you might imagine it took a great deal of time and all the skills of the small group of brilliant minds Croal assembled for the task.”
“It was a well known fact, in the world of Croal, that certain diseases that attacked the human species had their origins in other species. Birds, for example, were known to carry certain diseases like viruses that over time could mutate and infect other animals like pigs or cows or even rats. These infected species would in turn carry these viruses in their bodies for a period time. The viruses would again undergo a mutation, and then infect human beings.”
“Likewise, it was believed that if there was immunity to some disease in one species, it may be possible to transfer that immunity to another species. It was a process that had never been attempted before, since there had never been a need to do so. The disease changed all that, and Croal and his team began looking for a transferable immunity from some species to humans.”
“Since birds seemed totally immune to the disease, Croal began by taking genetic material from them. The hope was that in doing so, he would be going in the opposite direction with the infection – toward a cure. Instead of a disease going from birds to lower mammals and eventually to humans, he was hoping that he could make immunity flow from the avian species to humans.”
“So Croal developed the primordial genetic ‘soup’ from which we eventually emerged. He created a gene marker from an avian species that had a number of similar genetic components with humans and would always attach itself to a given sequence of proteins, thus imparting immunity to the disease. Then he developed a second marker that came from additional genetic material taken from a variety of sources that – while not creating intelligence – would allow certain tendencies to develop that would facilitate higher intelligence and hopefully, greater adaptability.”
“Even though Croal knew that any type of mutation was possible, given the factors that he created in his genetic soup, he was quite certain that the species that would emerge would be similar to the one dying out. Eventually, he was able to create stem cells that grew into embryos he hoped would exhibit viability. Looking at all of us it’s obvious the process was successful.”
“In his laboratory, Croal worked feverishly with his team. Eventually, the day came when it was time to begin growing an embryo in order to see how the carefully constructed mass of genetic material Croal had developed would react.”
“Croal took the first embryo he was eventually able to create, and placed it in the conception tank. Because of the advanced technology available to Croal, it only took a matter of days for the embryo to develop and prove itself to be a viable organism. At the end of the process, much to their surprise, they realized that they’d created a new species entirely different from themselves.”
“I would certainly say so,” I said, sitting up in Nic’s lap and lightly fluttering my wings for emphasis.
But as if purposely ignoring my overt display of our uniqueness, Charles looked out onto the open plain beyond me, and continued.
“As the fetus developed into an infant, they discovered through various tests that they conducted while it was still in the conception tank, that it indeed would be immune to the disease. They also realized that there was the potential for great intelligence and adaptability, but there were other effects that had never been imagined.”
“Do you know what untoward effects are?” Charles asked us as he paused in his account and looked at all of us sitting around the campsite.
“That’s when you get a result that you weren’t planning on, like a mutation.” Nic interjected.
“Yes, something like that. Untoward effects are indeed a type of mutation – effects not planned for. They can be anything from very benign or insignificant effects that may be just a curiosity, like purple eyes, all the way to dangerous effects that make life impossible for the organism.”
“So, what do you mean by untoward effects as far as we’re concerned, Charles?” I asked, once more fluttering my wings and adding smugly, “other than the obvious.”
“Yes our wings are, of course, the most obvious of all the untoward effects that arose from our creation.” Charles said. “Croal was astounded that they had created a being with such appendages, and not only that, the wings actually worked and allowed true flight.”
“Apparently when the avian marker attached itself to the chain of developing genetic material that would eventually create immunity in the new species, it also brought with it not only our wings, but other more subtle characteristics.”
“Like what?” Nic asked.
Charles paused for a few seconds. I saw his eyes move to the ground as he gazed at my foot still gently rubbing against Nic’s lower leg. Then he arched his eyebrows, shook his head ever so slightly in what almost appeared to be a disapproving nod, and continued. “For example, the bone structure of the new species was also slightly different. Instead of being dense like humans’, it had the avian characteristic of being honeycombed and full of air pockets, so like avian bones, the bones of this new species were light. But they differed from the bones of birds in that they had great tensile strength, far greater than either birds or humans.”
“Their muscle structure was also very different. Their muscle cells were denser, more compact, and also many times more efficient. They were better in converting and using energy. And just like the bones they were attached to, they had great strength. These dense and compact muscles demonstrated a high efficiency for using oxygen in cellular respiration. They also generated less harmful waste and were able to remove that waste much more rapidly from their cells as it was forming.”
“And that’s what helped make us stronger, lighter, and more suited to flight, isn’t it?” Cody interjected.
“Yes. I can see that you’re all beginning to realize where I am heading with my explanation,” Charles smiled. “The development of muscles that were smaller, yet stronger and more efficient combined with strong, light bones created the ability for flight free from the burden and necessity of large muscle mass and weight.”
“Another difference was in the area of respiration. The lungs of the new species had almost three times the surface area of human lungs, so that more oxygen could be quickly and efficiently transported throughout the body. The lungs, although they had many more folds, were also compact and light. As the lungs operated in their highly efficient exchange of gasses, the increased amount of oxygen they brought into the body was transported by an equally efficient circulatory system with many more blood vessels and blood cells than humans. In the library, I read that our bone marrow creates red blood cells at a much faster rate than humans, and our blood volume is slightly greater. And all that highly oxygenated blood is moved along quickly and effectively throughout our bodies by a system of double hearts.”
“Double hearts?” I said in surprise.
“I always thought I was imagining that,” Cody all but shouted, then quickly assumed a sheepish look when he felt Jonathan stir in his arms. “It always seems that my heart is somehow fluttering,” he continued in a soft whisper, “and then when I fly, I feel this surge rushing through my body.”
By now we were all looking at each other and nodding our heads in agreement with Cody’s statement.
“Yes, I’ve always felt it, but like you Cody, I thought it was just something in my head,” Nic added. “I never really thought to mention it to anyone.”
Charles smiled and pressed on. “The blood in our circulatory system is moved quite efficiently by our dual hearts. They work in tandem. Normally, the main heart in our chests pumps just like any human heart.”
Charles placed his hand over where a human heart would be.
“And it’s located here, in roughly the same place as a human heart. But here,” Charles then moved his hand about two inches lower and to the left, “is where our second, smaller heart lies – just under our main heart.”
“When we’re at rest, or not flying, it pumps blood much slower than our main heart and acts as a kind of auxiliary pump, that’s the fluttering we all feel occasionally when we concentrate on it. But when we’re in flight, the second heart expands in size and increases the blood flow to our lungs, allowing a greater exchange of oxygen with our muscles and tissues. Flight can be very taxing as we all know, but our bodies are built for it. That’s why if you put your ear to one of our chests you will hear our double heart beating. Human hearts beat with a distinctive LUB, DUB sound. Our hearts have a LUB, LUB, DUB, DUB sound.”
At Charles words, I put my ear to Nic’s chest and sure enough, I could hear the LUB, LUB, DUB, DUB sound of both of my love’s hearts.
“I hear your extra heart Nikki,” I murmured, leaning back and looking into Nic’s eyes.
“Yes, my Jamie, and it’s overflowing with love for you, just like my first heart is.” Then he bent down and kissed me.
“Well, the same for me, my king.”
Nic nuzzled my neck and I shivered as goose bumps appeared on my arms. Then I smiled and snuggled a bit deeper into his chest.
“Ahemmm,” Charles loudly cleared his throat indicating he was ready to continue when Nic and I were finished with our romantic interlude.
“But although we can fly, we really can’t go long distances. It seems that ten miles at a time is our limit, and afterward we have to rest, and our need for food increases,” Nic said, just before Charles was ready to go on.
“Yes, it’s true.” Charles said. “Remember, I said that in our creation some untoward effects occurred. Croal never intended to create a race of flying creatures. Our genetic development allows it to some extent, but we are boys with wings who happen to be able to fly, we are not flying boys. I know it seems like a small point, but it’s an important one. That we have the ability to fly should be considered a gift and a happy accident in our evolution, but we are by no means birds.”
“Another thing that was discovered,” Charles added, “was that the avian marker was sex specific. The marker only ever seemed to be able to attach itself successfully to the Y chromosome of males. When the genetic marker for the disease attached itself to the female’s X-chromosome, it did not create immunity from the disease, and in fact it was found to be incompatible with life. Females never lasted one day outside of the conception tank – and they succumbed in a matter of hours to the disease. It was a problem that Croal could never correct.”
“So, are you saying that there are no female angels?” Cody sounded surprised.
“That’s right, Cody. But they also discovered that although this new species only had one gender, it seemed to be natural to its evolution. And it was discovered that there was definitely a same sex attraction among most of its members.”
“But what about babies?” Cody asked, snickering.
“Well, that’s why Croal came up with the idea of the mating pair.”
Charles had definitely gotten my attention. I quickly arose from Nic’s lap, standing up and moving closer to the red and black angel.
“You’ve called Nic and me a mating pair from the first time we met, Charles. Now explain what you mean by that.”
“Well, every species needs to be able to extend itself into the future. Reproduction is one of the basic tenants of being a viable organism. Since there were no females, there had to be a way for this new species to procreate.”
“So which one of us carries the baby?” I said, concerned and more than a bit apprehensive.
“Neither of you.” Charles laughed. “That has all been arranged for when we return to Küronas.”
“Jamie please, patience. There is so much yet for you to learn and master.”
“But if you are telling me that Nic and I are somehow going to reproduce ourselves… well…. I just want to know some of the particulars.”
“And you will, but for the moment there’s so much yet to accomplish. As you’ve been so quick to always point out, we have various groups hunting us down and Loran is still after you. Reproduction is the least of our worries.”
“You’re using my words against me, Charles,” I said angrily.
“Maybe so, but there are still other things to discuss, and we still have a long journey ahead of us.”
As if to change the subject, and avert an argument between Charles and I, Nic interrupted.
“You talked about the first angel being created, Charles.” Nic was now standing and had joined me at my side, “what happened to him?”
“You’re looking at him.”
Nic and I looked at each other, then back to Charles.
“You were the first?”
Nic gave Charles a puzzled look, “but that would make you older than all of us.”
“Well, of course.”
Nic moved a step closer to Charles, “But I’m older than you.”
“Correct. You were kept in the maturation tank a bit longer. It was done on purpose so that Jamie would have someone older.”
“What are you talking about, Charles?” Now my Niklas, who always was so calm and level headed, was beginning to sound a bit like me.
“Nic, it will all be explained as we go. Too much knowledge dumped into your minds at one time is not good. I promise it will all be revealed and make sense as we continue. I’m not trying to play games with you. I’ll continue to tell you what I either know or have learned.”
“You’re not going to tell us any more tonight… are you, Charles?” I said, my voice colored with a touch of annoyance, as I was beginning to realize that Charles was going to end this session, once more leaving us with more new questions than questions answered.
“That’s correct Jamie. I told you the basics of how we were created. I will tell more, I promise. But understand one thing: so far I’ve told all of you the same information. I can tell you that some of the things that I know are not meant for everyone to hear. Some of it is meant for the princes of the noble houses, some for the Archangel’s Council. Some knowledge is only meant for you and Nic, and finally Jamie, some of it is only meant for the wizardry. And the truth is, I really don’t know all of the information.”
“What do you mean, Charles?” I asked.
“What I mean is that I was created by a process that Croal put into place. I learned some of it during my growth and development but I was the student, not the teacher. There are many things that I don’t know about or understand. And just like all of you, I’ve also suffered memory loss.
“Don’t look to me as some sage or oracle who has all the answers. Many things were thought out and planned for us in our development, but not all of them came to pass. There were mistakes and errors, and I probably only know about a small fraction of them.”
“Also, the world has changed dramatically from the days of Croal and Jonas, and the Enlightened Ones are no longer here to guide or direct us. If we were and are to be a real species, we must survive on our own. We were abruptly pushed from the cradle, into a sometimes-hostile environment and it is up to us to survive.
“The whole Loran/Alexander thing was a horrible fiasco, and we’re reaping the consequences of it today. Also, Jonas and Croal weren’t immortal. Eventually they died and after they died, their successors – small in number and with limited resources – carried on as best as they could within a dying world.
“Keep in mind Jamie, the process that was started long ago is still evolving, and it’s going to take time. Time for you to learn how to use your powers, time for you to absorb more orbs, time for us to get to Küronas, and time for so many other things as well, that we just can’t discuss it all now.”
“Yes, like time for my brother and me to tangle.”
Charles suddenly turned pale and averted his eyes from me. It was the first time I’d ever seen this blunt, straightforward angel, who always spoke his mind, seem to avoid a subject. I knew instantly that there was something more that he wasn’t saying. But at that very moment, I was tired and didn’t feel like a battle with my friend, so I turned and walked back to where I’d been sitting.
“Jamie.” Charles voice was very low and soft now, “I promise it will all be revealed in time.”
“I know, Charles,” I said. By now Nic had gone back to his seat and I made my way back to his lap, “I just hope that when it’s revealed, time hasn’t run out.”
Once I rejoined Nic, he turned his head to look directly at me and I was sure he could see the look of concern on my face. I, likewise, could see the same thing on his. He reached out his hand and took mine in his. I gently squeezed it and he gently stroked my arm with his other hand.
As if to punctuate the fact that he was finished for the night, Charles moved in front of Cody and indicated he was ready to put Jonathan to bed. Cody gathered up the sleeping child and gently handed him to Charles. Jonathan stirred and murmured softly, but remained asleep as Charles carried him off to bed. As if on signal, Luc arose from his seat and made his way to the blanket he’d laid near the fire earlier in the evening. Cody did the same. I sat quietly on Nic’s lap staring into the fire and pondering everything Charles had just finished relaying to us. The silence lasted for a few minutes, when Nic suddenly stirred me from my thoughts.
“You know Jamie; I’ve never felt as anxious about the future as I do right now,” he said, whispering quietly in my ear so as not to disturb the others. “In the beginning, after we awoke from our coffins, we joked about a kingdom, but it seems that it’s no longer a joke. Then there’s also this thing about us being a mating pair in order to reproduce. And on top of it all, Charles just said that I was made older because of you. Why is that? It all sounds totally crazy.”
“I know Nic.” I put my arm around him and laid my head on his shoulder. “I don’t understand any of it either.”
“Neither do I Jamie.”
“Its strange Nic, but when Charles was talking about Croal I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck rise and I felt a twinge of feeling – almost as if I knew him. But that’s impossible, no?”
“I don’t know Jamie. Given what we’re learning I think anything is possible.”
“I will give you my word on one thing Nic.”
“I swear to you that I’ll try to learn more about the magic and powers I’ve received. And I’ll try to be more rational Nic – I promise. But there’s one final thing that I want you to know more than anything else.”
“From the first moment I ever saw you Nic, I’ve loved you, and my love for you has grown more and more every second of every day. I can’t imagine life without you. And if some how this Croal made you for me, then I thank him every day, because without you I would die.” I reached up and brushed the back of my hand across his cheek.
“Do you really mean that, Jamie?”
“I mean it more than anything in the world, my beautiful and handsome king.”
Nic leaned over and kissed me.
“I feel the same way about you, I always have.”
“Then Nic, we’re going to do it. I don’t know how, but we’re going to establish this kingdom. We two angel boys are going to do it… with Charles’ help.”
“Yes, he’s certainly an important key to this endeavor… far more important than I first thought.”
“I always knew he was, Nic.”
“Well, I do read minds you know.”
“Jamie, what aren’t you telling me?”
“It’s nothing for you to concern yourself about.”
“Nic, you know I try not to pry into other people’s thoughts, and if I do learn something that isn’t crucial to our existence, I have the sense to keep it to myself. Life would be impossible for everyone, if they felt that they couldn’t keep the thoughts that reside in their heads private and away from me.”
“You’re right, of course Jamie. When you put your mind to it you really do exhibit logic and wisdom. You really are a special boy.”
“Well, you’re just as special.”
Nic had his arms wrapped around me. I could feel his warm strong hands on my back and the warmth of his body as he drew me closer to him.
“Hey, I can read your thoughts right now, and if you continue down that path, Niklas, I’m going to blush.”
“Well, we can lay a bit further away from the others tonight, out away from the fire.”
“Don’t worry Jamie, you won’t get eaten by any wild animals.”
“It’s not the wild animals roaming these plains that I’m worried about,” I smiled shyly at Nic. “It’s the one I am going to be sleeping next to.”
“Pff… well, if you’d rather not…” Nic said in an unsuccessful attempt to feign indifference.
“I didn’t say that, love,” and I leaned over and began deeply kissing the handsome angel on whose lap I sat. When I broke the kiss, I looked into Nic’s eyes and smiled my shyest and coyest smile. “I mean, I want to if you do…”
In an instant Nic stood, picked me up in his arms and carried me to the perimeter of the camp. I kept smiling at him, knowing that we would be getting to sleep a bit later than the others that night.