The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'


Part II - Prince of Mondele Royale


Chapter 15



                “Good morning, young master,” Castor called out as he entered the room.


                Carefully placing the tray of fresh fruit, warm cakes, and hot tea he was carrying on a nearby table, he touched a series of buttons on the wall and the opaque surface turned into a clear window. The day promised to be sunny but most likely hot, he thought to himself as he looked out the window and studied the sky. In the distance, he could see the gentle waves of the bright blue water in Dragon’s Inlet lapping rhythmically against the red sand of the shore.


                “Good morning,” Castor repeated, this time raising the tone of his voice as he looked down at the sleeping figure. “I know you’re awake – or at least, half awake.”


                Part of the boy’s head and a hand stuck out from under the covers, along with one bare foot that hung over the edge of the bed. As Castor stood waiting for some acknowledgment, he cast a look to the small lump he knew to be the garga lizard, curled up at the foot of the bed. As usual, when the boy went to sleep the night before the lizard began the night cuddled next to him, but as the cold blooded creature got warmer sleeping next to his master, it usually moved away and would often crawl under the covers all the way to the bottom of the bed. Hearing Castor's familiar voice, the little lump began to stir and move, until finally the end of a small, green snout poked out from under the blanket. But while the garga lizard acknowledged Castor’s presence, the boy ignored it – choosing instead to remain buried under the blankets. Castor shook his head as he surveyed the scene. Finally the lizard crawled out from under the covers near the boy's exposed foot and peered around the room.


                “I’ve tried, Spinoza,” Castor sighed. “Now it’s up to you. Start earning some of that expensive Griel fish I serve you every day.”


                As Castor addressed Spinoza, the little lizard cocked its head to the side and stared back at him with one of its dark green eyes. Suddenly voicing a loud akkk!, it stood on its small, stubby legs, shook itself like a dog after a bath, and began to beat its wings with all its might. Launching itself into the air and dragging its long tail behind, it looked as comical as ever; weaving back and forth, it described a convoluted path to the head of the bed. Landing on the pillow with an audible thump near its master’s head, it looked up at Castor in eager anticipation.


                “Well, go on,” Castor said.


                “Akkk! akkk! akkk!” the lizard cried, and began biting at the boy’s ear. “Akkk! akkk…!”


                Swatting at his ear, the sleeping boy tried to turn his head, but the garga lizard would have none of it.


                Taking another bite, it once more cried out, “Akkk! akkk! akkk…!


                This time the boy shook his head, turning it away to save his ear from another bite. Then, throwing back the blankets and springing up from his prone position, he quickly assumed a sitting position as he pulled his legs close to his body, wrapping his arms around his knees. As usual, Castor observed how during all his gymnastics, the boy was very careful with his wings – large wings that eventually hung over the edge of the bed once he was fully up in his sitting position. Spinoza, nearly beside itself with excitement at its success in rousing its master, leaped and cavorted around the now seated boy.


                “Good morning,” Castor said once more, looking down at him.


                The boy looked up, and his piercing blue eyes sparkled as he gave Castor a smile.


                “Silana va desta,” the boy said, brushing a shock of golden blond hair away from his eyes as he rose to stand next to his bed.


                Castor quirked an eyebrow. “Now, you know speaking in that dialect could get you in trouble if the wrong person overheard it,” he said, giving him a mock look of disapproval that he knew the boy would immediately see through.


                “Oh, ok. Then, a’llora, tarv’on,” he replied with mischief in his smile as the lilting, melodic words of a different tongue sprang from his mouth.


                “And speaking that language will get you in even more trouble,” Castor said, shaking his head in disapproval even as the smile on his face revealed his true feelings.


                During their exchange the garga lizard, which had been left behind on the bed, fluttered its wings wildly and launched itself into the air. Finding the top of its young master’s head, it landed there. Being a little too long for all four of its feet to remain comfortably on top the boy’s head, it left only its two front feet there, letting the other two dangle until the claws of his hind feet finally gripped two hanks of hair on the back of the boy’s head. Thus ensconced, it stared out on the world over its master’s head, looking every bit the little emperor while its long tail constantly curled and twitched around the boy’s chin. Castor suppressed a smile – it was always the same, he thought to himself.


                “Fine! Good morning, Castor,” Jamie said in the standard human speech, but with just the right hint of sarcasm; then, brushing the lizard’s tail away from his mouth, he quickly added, “But you know that Father encourages us to speak both Kalorian and Icarian. He says it’s important.”


                “Not as important as not getting caught doing it,” Castor interjected, trying to sound stern. If anything, he needed to reinforce the seriousness of his remarks. “It’s fine to learn, and even to speak them,” he said, “but you know you have to be careful. Fun is fun, Jamie, but freely speaking two banned languages won’t earn you many points with the Empire. Even all the way down here, living in Isewier at the very tip of the continent, we still have to be careful. I think your father’s sometimes a little too lax with you and your brother. If I had any say in the matter, I’d take a line and tie one end to your ankle and the other to a large anchor. That would keep your feet on the ground.”


                “And what about Charlie?” Jamie asked. “You wouldn’t tie him up?”


                “Charlie’s a good boy. He’d obedient, and does what he’s told. The only time he gets in trouble is when he’s with you, Jamie. He’d never think up even half the schemes you two get up to. Look how long it’s been now, and Enoch still won’t talk to you – making him burn his eyebrows off like that! What were you thinking?”


                “I wasn’t thinking, Castor,” he said, trying to look repentant. “I know it was a stupid thing to do. I was just a kid, but I’m ages older now. And Father did punish me for it – you even helped.”


                “Yes, I always seem to get the job of taskmaster, don’t I?” Castor said. “And I wouldn’t call four years ‘ages older,’ young man. There is a difference between eight and twelve, but sometimes you act like you’re six. I occasionally find myself thinking of Charlie as your older brother, and he’s two years younger than you.”


                “I’m going to take a bath,” Jamie announced, taking advantage of the brief pause in Castor’s lecture to change the subject. Bending over, he quickly stripped off his pair of sleep shorts and ran naked out of the room, heading toward the bath. As he’d undressed, the garga lizard fell from his head back onto the bed, giving a loud akkk! in protest. “Sorry, Spinoza,” he called back to the lizard. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”


                “Do it quickly, Jamie, before your tea gets cold,” Castor called out, sounding slightly exasperated as he realized he was now speaking to an empty room – save for the garga lizard sprawled on the bed. “I’m getting your brother up,” he shouted as he left Jamie’s room and started down the skywalk to Charlie’s room. “He’ll join you for breakfast as usual, I'm sure.”


                When Jamie returned to the room, wrapped in a luxuriant towel, Charlie was sitting at the table, munching some of the cakes and sipping tea. Stripping away the towel, Jamie put it to his head and gave his hair a vigorous rub. When he was finished, he threw the damp towel on the floor, gave Charlie a good morning kiss and dropped into the chair opposite his younger brother. As soon as the garga lizard caught sight of Jamie, it made a soft happy chirping akk, leapt from the bed and landed on the table where Castor had set the breakfast tray, nearly upsetting the teapot. Charlie, knowing from habit what to expect, neatly lifted his teacup just before the lizard impacted the table. Jamie reached out and absentmindly scratched the top of Spinoza’s head with one hand while popping a few grapes in his mouth with the other.


                As Castor passed the room, he glanced in and saw them eating their breakfast. As usual, Jamie was sprawled in his chair still naked while Charlie, although barefoot, was otherwise dressed and ready for the day. He slipped in to pick up the towel Jamie always discarded. It could rot away on the floor, and even then the boy wouldn’t notice it. In so many ways they were typical for children their age, but as he left the room he could hear a bit of their conversation – quite atypical for any human or Kalorian children of the same ages as the two boys. While physically only ten and twelve, their intelligence still surprised him, even though he could see the visible manifestation of their differences every day – the most obvious being the large wings sprouting from their backs.


                “Just once, Jam, you should consider getting up and taking your bath before Castor brings breakfast.” Charlie said, taking a bite out his breakfast cake. "You’re always half awake anyway, by the time he comes in.”


                “Now you sound like Castor,” Jamie said, taking a cake of his own and stuffing half of it in his mouth. "I like lying there just before he comes in. It’s my time to think.”


                “About what?” Charlie asked innocently. “That boy?”


                “Pff… What boy? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”


                Charlie shot his brother a knowing look, and then raised a finger and tapped the side of his head.


                “I hate it when you do that, Charlie. Father told us we shouldn’t be mucking around in people's heads just because we can. And especially not your own brother's.”


                “Sometimes, I can’t help it,” Charlie said, looking genuinely upset for a moment. “Sometimes it just happens, Jam.”


                “Ok, sure, I know. It was that way for me too, when it first started. And I didn’t have anyone to help me, like you do – even Father couldn’t help me. I was scared, but I learned to control it. You have to learn too, Charlie; you’ve a much more powerful Talent than I do. You could get yourself into big trouble.”


                “Trouble? When did I ever get in trouble – unless I was with you?" Charlie smirked, taking a sip of his tea. "It started when you taught me how to catch sea crabs on the beach – you never told me they were a native species that was going extinct. The look on Castor’s face when he came after us that day and we were sitting by the fire, eating the ones we’d roasted. I thought he was going to roast you! Then there was my first flight - you remember how you were punished for that. And the time when that man came to visit Father, and…”


                “I get the point, Charlie,” Jamie cut in. “But you have to admit, you had fun. Those crabs were delicious, and you never would have tried them if I hadn’t taught you how to catch and roast them. Last month would have been First Flight for you, but you’ve been flying for two whole years now. Even Father was amazed and had to change his theories on Icarian flight because of that. And that man… well… ok, that was a mistake – but not a big one.”


                “What a big brother you are, Jam - always getting me in trouble,” Charlie said, laughing.


                “What a little brother you are, Charlie, always getting me to cover for you,” Jamie said, echoing Charlie’s laughter.


                “So, what do you want to do today?” Charlie asked.


                “Well, after we do our lessons, maybe we can head to the cliffs...or, if you prefer, the beach,” Jamie said.


                “Ugh, our lessons. Why don’t we do something first, and then do our lessons?”


                “That’s not the way it’s supposed to be, Charlie, and you know it,” Jamie said, and then quickly added, “See, I do have to do some big brotherly things – like make sure you do your lessons.”


                “But Mobley has me doing Geometry now,” Charlie groaned. “I have to spend so much time with it that I don’t get a full history lesson. And I never get to write poetry anymore.”


                “I know it’s not your favorite subject,” Jamie said.


                “Not my favorite subject?” Charlie ranted, “You know how much I hate it, Jamie. I don’t like all that complicated mathematics.”


                “But Geometry isn’t complicated; it’s really simple, Charlie. Mathematics helps us understand the world. It’s like suddenly looking through a lens that magically breaks down what’s around us into its basic components. Once you get into Calculus and the higher mathematical constructs beyond, the theorems and proofs are so elegant, it lets you see things in a completely new light.”


                “Simple for you, Jam – just like Physics.”


                “But Physics is the same, and if you’d study it a bit more instead of your Philosophy, you’d see that there’s a point where they seem to merge, or converge – Philosophy and Physics, I mean.”


                “I’d rather stay with my History, and Philosophy, and Poetry,” Charlie said, then raising an eyebrow and giving Jamie a wink and a wicked grin, he asked, “What was the order of imperial succession in the second dynasty?”


                “I don’t know,” Jamie said, “and I don’t care. They’re all dead anyway.”


                “Well, see Jamie, there are things you’re not so keen on yourself. Maybe you should stop studying math and take an intensive course in history.”


                “Ugh,” Jamie said. “Ok, I see your point. And I admit, we each have our separate areas of interest. But then, our paths are a little different.”


                “Yes, they are,” Charlie said. “For the longest time you did everything you could to sneak into Father’s laboratory – something I have no interest in. After the ninth time, you caused that fire. After the fifteenth time, there was the explosion. I remember how happy you were when, after the twentieth time, he finally gave you your own pass code and a small space to work, so you wouldn’t break in and cause more trouble.”


                “Pff. You know that’s what I want to do, Charlie: I want to work with Father. I love his stories about the Founders, and the great scientists. I want to make some great discovery. I want my name inscribed in the Hall of Heroes for all time. James de Valèns, Father of…”


                “…mischief, trouble, and chaos,” a voice said from behind him.


                “Not fair, Castor,” Jamie called out without looking around. “You shouldn’t be eavesdropping.”


                “And you shouldn’t be lounging around your room all day naked, and acting as if there’s nothing to do, young master. Get dressed and get moving downstairs to Mobley. Your comp’s cued up, ready to start your lessons - which is more than I can say for you, right now. So don’t dawdle.”


                “But I’m happy to do my lessons, Castor. It was Charlie who was complaining…”


                “Don’t drag your brother into this,” Castor said briskly. “You’re the one who’s not ready.”




                Jamie sputtered for a few seconds, trying to come up with one of his sharply barbed retorts, but before he could say anything he was stopped by a small bundle of clothing tossed in his face by Castor, and a malicious grin from Charlie.


                “Just get ready,” Castor said. “Then you and Charlie go see Mobley.”


                “Fine,” Jamie grumbled.


                As Castor prepared to leave the room, Charlie called out to him. “Why do you always call us 'young master,' Castor? Father gave you your freedom. He gave all the Kalorians in the compound their freedom.”


                “Old habits die hard, Charlie,” Castor said. “And the truth is, we may be free here, but outside the compound, nothing has changed. We can’t come and go as we please. We can’t live and act like the humans do – but you already know that. We remain property, just as you…”


                Castor stopped short and a strange look came to his face, as if he’d made some sort of blunder. “Just get dressed, and don't keep Mobley waiting,” he said, rushing from the room.


                Jamie quickly threw on his clothes, and the boys started downstairs, heading for the room Castor had designated ‘the classroom.’


                “That was cute, Charlie, how I got the blame for slacking on my lessons when I’m well ahead in my work, and I was the one pushing you to go.”


                “Well, everyone’s always more willing to believe that you’re the bad boy, and I’m…”


                “…sweet, loveable, innocent Charlieboy, who Jamie always drags into trouble,” Jamie said, giving his brother a slight scowl. “You’re just lucky I love you as much as I do, little brother, or maybe I’d drown you in Dragon’s Inlet.”


                “You shouldn’t threaten the life of your brother,” an inhuman, metallic sounding voice chimed out.


                Charlie tried, but couldn’t stop the snicker that came.


                “It was just a figure of speech, Mobley,” Jamie said sounding exasperated, “I wasn’t actually… I didn’t mean… great Charlie,” he whispered, “now you even have Mobley convinced that I’m evil and you’re good.


                “But I am good, and you are evil,” Charlie giggled, quickly making his face look as innocent and angelic as possible.


                “You have them so fooled… if they only knew you, little turd,” Jamie said unable to stifle a laugh when he saw the expression Charlie’d assumed. “Some day, I really am going to drown you in Dragon’s Inlet,” he said, whispering so he wouldn’t be over heard by the little comp.


                “You love me too much to do that,” Charlie laughed. “Besides, without me around, who else would go along with your wild schemes,” he added, with a wink at his brother.


                “Boys, it is time for your lessons. Please take your seats,” the comp said, ending their private banter.


“Yes, Mobley,” Charlie said solemnly


                “Yes, Mobley," Jamie said, but then looked at Charlie, smiled, and tapped the side of his head.


                They might not be able to speak during their lessons, but ever since Charlie’s powers had started to develop over a year ago, the comp had no idea that they shared a few thoughts while they worked on their lessons. It didn’t harm anyone, and besides, it was one of the ways Charlie was getting through his mathematics, and Jamie through the second dynastic succession.


                Mobley started them on their lessons, then supervised them as they worked - most of the time sitting quietly as a few of the lights on its sides blinked or glowed at varying speeds or intensities. While some comps had human features and were designed to mimic the actions, gestures and expressions of humans, Mobley was  the diametric opposite. A small black box on wheels, powered by a few servomotors, its simple construction belied the amazingly powerful and sophisticated machine it was. Built to look like a standard class two comp, it was developed in the labs at Gold Glass, and enhanced over the years by some of Croal's assistants.  Not only was it one of the fastest and most powerful machines on the entire continent, Croal’s work on precognition and neural enhancement had allowed him to endow it with a sophisticated artificial intelligence.


                Croal had brought it with him from Gold Glass. It wasn’t uncommon for retiring scientists employed by the facility to take their comps with them. While primarily holding material on research projects and scientific information, most comps also contained personal information and data related to their assigned scientist. As long as all critical information was downloaded into the main database to be shared with others – and scrutinized by the imperial spies – at the time of the comp owner’s retirement, most comps were allowed to remain with their owners for life. Once their owners were gone, the comps were returned to The Robotic Institute’s central storage and repair facility where they were purged, given full diagnostics, upgraded, and reassigned.


                If the authorities at Gold Glass had known how sophisticated the small and unobtrusive talking box on wheels really was, they’d have instantly seized it. If they’d known what Croal had done with Mobley during his last day at the facility, they’d have seized his comp and killed him. On Croal’s final day at Gold Glass, in order to comply with the facility's policy, he walked rather nonchalantly into the transfer station with the comp rolling noiselessly behind him. Standing to the side as a technician linked the comp to the neural net, Croal patiently waited for the transfer that would first upload the comp’s files to the main database and than erase most of its memory – leaving behind only Croal’s personal files. Appearing totally uninterested as he stared out one of the lab's windows, Croal remained silent during the procedure.


                What the technician didn’t realize was that as soon as he initiated the link, a special neural chip- undetectable by the net – was activated. The chip allowed only a partial transfer of information – keeping all of Croal’s most important work hidden. At the same time, a skillfully written subroutine carefully buried in a standard diagnostic program stealthily copied and downloaded every bit of information held in the central data banks of Gold Glass, along with everything in the main imperial database, housed at Ajax Prime, that it was tied into.


                Later that day, as Croal said goodbye to his colleagues for the last time and left the facility, the little comp that rolled silently behind him – following Croal like an obedient dog – contained a large percentage of the scientific, historic, political and clandestine information of the empire. Once Croal was back in his villa in Isewier, Mobley’s data was uploaded into Croal’s own private central net at his hidden lab, and the comp came to lead a quiet life – until Jamie and Charlie appeared. When Jamie was old enough to begin his education, Mobley was given the job of tutoring him. After Charlie appeared, both boys came under the little comp's charge. Given Croal’s advanced AI program, Mobley appeared to take the assignment seriously and gave every indication that it genuinely liked the boys. 


                “Ugh, I’m glad that’s over,” Charlie said, groaning as the two boys headed back upstairs to their rooms to change their clothes. “Pi is something that should be eaten, not calculated.”


                “Look, Charlie, Mobley let you study some of the hierarchical order of the Council Royale, and you even got to write a poem,” Jamie shot back.


                “Start on a poem,” Charlie quickly corrected. “I started one, but I didn’t finish it.”


                “What’s it about? Pi?” Jamie said, laughing as his finger traced the symbol p on Charlie's arm.


                “No, as a matter of fact, it’s about you.”


                “Me? What, now you’re writing a poem about me?”


                “Yes,” Charlie said, then after a moment's reflection, corrected himself. “Well, it’s about the two of us, really.”


                “Oh, I get it. Good versus evil. Chaos versus order. Calm versus the storm.” Jamie said, rolling his eyes. “I can guess what parts will refer to me.”


                “Well, there is a section that deals with one of the parts of a storm,” Charlie said, smiling.


                “Of course - I knew it,” Jamie said, sniffing. “Well, don’t make me look too bad. If Father reads it, he’ll have Castor send me to the kitchen to scrub pots again, based on the words of a poem. He’ll suspect there’s something hidden between the lines – something I’ve done he hasn’t learned about.”


                “Well Jam, there are lots of things you’ve done that he hasn’t learned a little retroactive punishment may be in order,” Charlie giggled.


                “Such big words for a little boy.”


                “Well, at least I understand them. And, they're not Pi,” Charlie added mockingly.


                “Ah yes, Pi – 3.141592653589793238…" Jamie began reciting the number as rapidly as possible.


                “Show off.”




                “Fungus feathers.”


                “Baby wings.”






                By the time they’d gotten to the top of the steps and were standing on the landing of the skywalk, they’d managed to share their usual list of good-natured insults, both mental and spoken aloud, in three separate languages.


                “Ok, so what do you want to do, Charlie?” Jamie asked, finally ending their little game. “The cliffs or the sea?”


                “Well, both,” Charlie said, laughing.


                “We don’t have time for both. If we take a hov to the cliffs and back, there won’t be time to get to the beach before dinner.”


                “No one said we have to take a hov.”


                “Well, it certainly doesn’t make sense to fly to and from the cliffs. It won’t get us there any quicker than a Hov. Sure we can do it, but we’ll be too tired to go to the beach.”


                “Who said anything about flying?” Charlie winked.


                “Oh no, Charlie,” Jamie sputtered, suddenly understanding his brother’s intent. “I never should have told you about the practice Father’s having me do with the gates.”


                “You wouldn’t have had to, 'cause I would have figured it out on my own,” Charlie said, tapping the side of his head with a finger.


                “Arrgh!” Jamie growled. “Nothing in my head is safe with you around. I wish Father and Castor were here to witness this. Yes, I can use the gates without a card and you can’t, but if we’re caught, who gets blamed? Who gets accused of breaking the rules?”


                “Why, you, of course,” Charlie said, giggling.


                “That’s right, me,” Jamie said, giving Charlie a look that told him that even though his words said one thing,  he actually thought it might be a good idea and was considering it. “On one condition,” Jamie finally said.


                “And that is?”


                “When you write this poem, you don’t make me the reckless, mischief causing terror everyone thinks I am.”


                “Thinks? You mean, knows you are – because you are!”


                “Deal?” Jamie said, looking at Charlie with his shining blue eyes.


                “Done,” Charlie said, looking back at Jamie with his equally stunning green eyes.


                “Ok then, let’s get ready. Put on something cool and light that we can slip out of later, when we get to the sea. And hope that Mobley isn’t lurking around the gate.”


                “Mobley won’t be anywhere near the gate,” Charlie said.


                “I wish I could be as sure as you seem to be.”


                “Well, I really can be sure, Jam,” Charlie said, letting out another giggle, “because I told Mobley I was interested in an original document on the establishment of the Council Royale. I guessed that it wasn’t something normally in Mobley’s data base and he would have to go down to the second level of the lab where the connection for the archives link is located.”


                “Why, you clipped-winged, little…” Jamie sputtered. “You had this all planned out. That’s what your mind was on when you were supposed to be calculating Pi. Where’re Father and Castor to be witnesses when I need them?” he added, giving his little brother a faux scandalized look. “You better watch out, because when we get to the beach, I will drown you in Dragon’s Inlet.”


                After changing clothes, the boys met at the top of the skywalk and quietly snuck downstairs. Making their way to one of the two lifts that connected to the lab, they entered and rode down to level three, where the neural net was installed. It was also the level housing equipment storage, records, and the gate.


                “We should be ok, shouldn’t we? You told me that almost no one ever comes down here,” Charlie said in conspiratorial whisper.


                “Almost never and never are two different things, Charlie. Its true that most of the time no one is down here, except when adjustments are being made to the neural net, or one of Father’s assistants is storing or retrieving equipment, or someone is checking or filing a record, or checking on the power levels, or…”


                “Ok, I get the idea,” Charlie said, “In other words, we might get caught as soon as the lift door opens.”


                “Yes, and that’s when you keep quiet and let me do the talking,” Jamie said. “I do have access to the lab now – at least the parts Father allows me."


                “Only he doesn’t know you have access to the whole thing, since you’ve figured out every access panel by now.”


                “Shhhh,” Jamie said. “No one is supposed to know that – including you, if you weren’t always kicking around in my head.”


                “I told you, I can’t always help it,” Charlie replied contritely.


                “Well, we’re going to start working on that,” Jamie said. “Its not that hard. You’re more powerful than me, so it should take you less time than it took me. Now, if we get caught, I’ll just tell them I made a mistake and pushed the wrong button.”


                “But I’m not supposed to be in here with you,” Charlie said.


                “They don’t know that. I’ll just tell them I'm taking you to my station to do an experiment we need for our lessons.”




                The lift came to a stop, but just before it opened, Jamie renewed his command. “Remember, I do the talking if we’re caught.”


                “Deal.” Charlie nodded and the door slid open.


                The hallway was empty, and quiet except for the low, constant hum of the net.


                “This way,” Jamie said, heading quickly down the corridor. Half way down, they heard a sound. Jamie froze, and Charlie bumped into him.


                “Ouch,” Charlie said,


                “Quiet,” Jamie whispered. “Someone’s coming, but I can’t tell from where."


                Just then a bell rang, and James saw the light for the second lift blink on.


                “Someone’s coming down the other lift,” he said, and grabbed Charlie’s hand. Almost dragging his younger brother down the rest of the corridor, he opened and then slipped through the first door he came across, pulling Charlie in behind him. The door clicked shut just as the lift door opened and one of Croal’s assistants stepped out into the hall, and walked quietly toward one of the storage rooms.


                After a few minutes of silence, Jamie opened the door a crack and peered out.


                “Ok,” he said, “It’s clear.”


                Seconds later, they were heading down a second hall in quiet haste. Midway, Jamie stopped before a door. “Here it is,” he said, turning around to make sure Charlie was with him. Opening the door, Jamie slipped through and held it open for his brother, then closed it with a quiet click.


                Once in the room, Charlie immediately saw the gate set into the far wall.


                “Hurry,” Jamie whispered as he crossed to the large structure that looked a bit like a mirror. “Let's get out of here before someone hears us." Closing his eyes and concentrating, he began a quiet chant he called ‘the incantation,’ and the hard, reflective surface of the gate began to glow and shimmer. “Come on, let's go. You first, and I’ll be right behind.”


                Charlie gave Jamie a strange look and paused.


                “You have to go first,” Jamie said impatiently as his concentration wavered, and the mirror surface began to turn back to its hard, impenetrable surface. “For some reason, after I enter it shuts down as soon as I’m through. I’m not pulling a trick on you.”


                Charlie nodded, although his face showed his skepticism. Jamie returned to full focus and the mirror once again began to shimmer in readiness. Nodding his head and pointing toward the mirror, Jamie indicated that it was ready and Charlie walked through the gate as Jamie continued to concentrate. As soon as he disappeared, Jamie passed through and after a few seconds of tumbling, emerged to see Charlie grinning.


                “I thought you might like the ride,” Jamie said.


                “That was fun,” Charlie said, his eyes twinkling with excitement.


                “Well, we get to do it again after we’re done here. There’s a gate by the sea. Father told me it hasn’t been used for a long time, but I know the coordinates. You can be glad I’m good at memorizing numbers.”


                “So what should we do?” Charlie asked, now that they were standing on the bare, red rocks of the Cliffs of Isewier.


                “We can always fly. I want to show you something I’ve been practicing - I got it from one of the dances I learned from Annamera, and I’ve adapted it to flight. I think it’s great.” And with that, Jamie ran toward the edge of the cliff and leapt off.


                Like a boy gleefully jumping into a pond. Charlie dashed after him and, stroking his large iridescent wings, pushed off the edge with a wild shout that echoed off the walls of the cliffs. With a series of aerial moves and aerobatics, Jamie suddenly came streaking across the sky only a few feet in front of Charlie. The turn, spin, and turn he executed as he flew by had Charlie dizzy.


                “What was that?” Charlie asked, blinking in surprise he flew near his brother.


                “Its one of the recurring themes in the Gavva,” Jamie answered, occasionally stroking his wings while he and Charlie floated on the warm updrafts. “The dancers start it slowly, and then keep it up until they build to a frenzy. It has that little turn, spin, and turn incorporated into it. As soon as I saw it I knew, with practice, I could copy it in the air."


                “I couldn’t. It looks rather complex.”


                “Well, it’s like mathematics, Charlie; it only looks difficult when you're looking at it as a whole. Once you reduce it to its basic components, it’s easy.”


                “Easy for you, maybe, but I don’t think it's like that for too many others,’ Charlie said. “I don’t know how you do it.”


                “All the basic moves come from Kalorian folk dance," Jamie said. “They're amazing dancers, and I’ve always loved they way they move.”


                “They seem to feel the same way about you,” Charlie said. “Every time we’re at one of their gatherings, they always want to you to dance.”


                “I don’t know why - they’ve taught me everything.”


                “You always do something different with it though, Jam. Maybe it's mathematics,” Charlie said.


                Jamie was ready to reply with a barbed comment, but stopped when he saw Charlie was being serious. “Ah, how so?” he asked curiously.


                “Well, dancing is patterns and movement: arcs, arches, circles, tangents, and turns – it all seems mathematical to me. I’ve seen you draw some of the dances on paper. When you do, it looks like my geometry. I can’t figure it out, but it all seems to make perfect sense to you.”


                “Dunno,” Jamie said, shrugging. “Maybe. I never thought the way I look at it might be different from everyone else.”


                The conversation ceased when Jamie, suddenly catching a strong updraft, flew off on it and executed another wild series of movements – much to Charlie’s delight. After a half hour in the air, fatigue finally won out over fun and the boys landed and started exploring some of the nearby cliffs and caves.


                Charlie became particularly intrigued when he found a small passage that went meandering off to the side of one of the main caves they’d been exploring. What drew him was something that looked like a small round button glinting dully in the dim light from the cave mouth. The caves were dark, but enough light filtered in that he could just make it out. Curious, he went in. It was darker than he'd thought and he couldn’t see very well. Crouching down, he combed his fingers through the dry, sandy dirt, feeling around for it. After a few unsuccessful attempts, his fingers brushed against something small and smooth. The object was cool to his touch, and once he had it in his grasp, he rose and backed out of the cave, careful not to scrape his wings. Brushing the dirt from it, he returned to the mouth of the cave where the light poured in, curious to see what it was.  Once he worked away the dirt that was caked on it with his fingers, he saw that it was a small, cylindrical object with markings on it. It had a hole through its center. Studying it, he concluded that it must be one of many to be strung on a cord or chain to form a necklace.


                “What do you have there?” Jamie asked curiously as he approached his younger brother.


                “I’m not sure,” Charlie replied. “It looks like a bead from a necklace to me.”


                “I think you’re right,” Jamie said taking the small object in his hand. “You know, it’s strange... these markings look like some of the Ghröum symbols.”


                “Really?” Charlie said excitedly.


                “Yes. From my studies with Mobley, I remember markings like this. I’m not sure, but they might be Ghröum. We’ll take it back home and do a little research."


                “Ok. Maybe we can find more,” Charlie said, looking back to the passage where he’d found the object.


                “Maybe, but not now. We didn’t bring any glow torches,” Jamie said. “We can always check in a few days if we come back. Besides, the sun's really beating on these cliffs; it’s getting too warm to stay here anymore. Lets go to the beach and cool off a bit. The next time we come, we’ll be better prepared.”


                Charlie looked back wistfully at the passage, still interested and curious as to where it led, but he followed Jamie back to the mirror. This time, when Jamie activated it and he went in ahead of his brother, he knew what to expect. The sudden fall past the flashing lights was a thrill, but it was soon over and he found himself standing in front of another gate, somewhere in a dark alcove. Taking a deep breath he smelled the sea, and immediately knew where he was. Jamie, who’d been right behind him, stepped out of the mirror and stopped at his side.


                “This is a strange place to put a gate,” Charlie said, checking out the spot where they’d appeared. The gate was part of a deteriorating wall built into an outcropping of rock. There were no other structures around it, and in the distance he could see the surf washing up on to the red sand beach.


                “You’re right,” Jamie replied, “but I think there was something here a long time ago. I mean, the Gates of Safros are here, although they’re mostly underwater now. It could have been part of a larger building or something. I know from studying with Mobley that this area was subject to a great earthquake a few centuries ago. I asked Father about it once, but he seemed to ignore my question. You can see that there’s really not much of anything here anymore except the beach and what’s left of the Gates of Safros. That’s probably why this mirror gate’s not used any more: there’s nothing here but the beach, and the sea. Anyway, we came here to cool off, so let's go.”


                Leaving the gate behind, both boys took to the air and soared toward the beach, then flew out over the water. After letting the breeze from the sea buffet them a bit, they landed on the warm red sand of the beach. Removing their sandals and tunics, they left a trail of footprints to the water. While the crashing waves could damage their wings, it was safe enough to go into the water as long as they were careful, and as long as they didn’t allow their wings to get too waterlogged. If that happened, their water-soaked wings could act as an anchor keeping them from flying and, if caught by a wave, could possibly drag them out to sea. But if they went into water that was slightly less than waist high they were all right. After a bit of frolicking in the surf and splashing each other, they came back up on the sand and lay on their stomachs, letting their wings dry.


                As they lay on the warm sand, Charlie turned his gaze to Jamie. “In a few more weeks it will be Solstice Fete,” he said as a tone of eager anticipation colored his voice. “And our birthdays,” he added, smiling at his older brother. “What are you going to get me for my birthday?”


                “I’ll tell you when you tell me,” Jamie said smugly, knowing Charlie, like himself, would never reveal the nature of his gift.


                The boys had been extracted from their maturation tanks two years apart, but on the same day, so they always celebrated their shared birthday together. The fact that it fell on Solstice Fete made it even more special. The first year or two their party was small, owing to the fact that it was the same day as the empire-wide feast day and there was enough celebration to go around. But as the years went on and Charlie grew older, both boys planned their gifts to each other with a serious single-mindedness.


                “I think you’ll like what I’ve chosen for you,” Jamie said, his blue eyes shining brightly.


                “I have something nice planned for you as well, but I’ll never top Spinoza,” Charlie said, frowning slightly.


                With their father’s help, Spinoza had been Charlie’s gift to Jamie two years previously on the occasion of his brother’s tenth birthday, around the same time of Jamie – and his own – First Flight. Jamie had instantly fallen in love with the little garga lizard, and it had become a constant companion to him. It would often be found curled up next to Jamie when he read a book, and almost always was perched on his shoulder when Jamie was working on his homework – comically appearing to be carefully studying his master’s work. It would even have accompanied Jamie into the lab had their father not banned it after Jamie’d once brought the garga lizard with him to his workstation and Spinoza, suddenly frightened by a small pop from one of the reagents Jamie’d mixed with another, accidentally flew into a rack of test tubes sending them crashing to the lab floor.


                “Spinoza would be awfully hard to top,” Jamie said, laughing. “But it’s ok, I know I’ll like what you choose. I always do,” he added quickly in an attempt to reassure Charlie whose frown he’d noticed had gotten a bit stronger.


                “You say that,” Charlie said sighing, “but…”


                “No, Charlie, I really will like it, I know I will,” Jamie said. “Please don’t stress over it.”


                “Well, it is something special,” Charlie said, sounding hopeful. “Castor helped me with it.”


                “Uhm… really?” Jamie replied, trying not to sound suspicious since Castor had also made a suggestion to him about Charlie’s gift and because it had sounded like such a good idea Jamie’d readily agreed.


                “I guess we’ll both have to wait until Soltice Fete,” Charlie said wistfully.


                “Its not that far away,” Jamie replied laying his head down on the sand and closing his eyes. His wings still had to finish drying out and he was ready for a little nap after all the energy he’d expended.


                “So, who’s that boy you like, and why do you like him?” Charlie asked with a smile. “I know you think about him from time to time.”


                “I really do have to start teaching you to control your mental powers,” Jamie said in annoyance, opening his eyes, raising his head and turning to look at Charlie.


                “I know. You know I don’t mean to… look. But I’ve seen your thoughts about him. They seem different than your thoughts about me, or Father, or anyone else – I can tell that much. Who is he?”


                “Well, if you must know, Charlie,” Jamie said with a deep sigh, “I really don’t know who he is. I went with Father to Compari two years ago, when I was ten. He said he wanted me to see something, but he didn’t say much more than that. You know, other than being with you, it was the first time I ever saw any other Icarians. It was amazing, but also a little scary - seeing all those boys with wings running around, practicing their exercises and drills and playing at combat with wooden practice swords. There were also some older Icarians there, and all of them looked at me strangely. I asked Father about it, and he told me I was imagining it. But I don’t think I was. They were definitely looking at me... examining me. Their thoughts were strange, too. Something else was unusual, too: There weren’t any humans around when we were there – except one. That surprised me too.”


                “Who was that?” Charlie asked.


                “A man - an older man. He and Father talked for a while, but I don’t know what they talked about. Father appeared secretive.”


                “So what about the boy?” Charlie asked, sounding eager to get back on the original topic.


                “Uhm, the boy. Ok, well, when I got there one of the trainers handed me a ball, and asked me if I wanted to play with it. I really didn’t, but I carried it around with me. All the boys there were so active and athletic, I guess he thought maybe I was going to join them. When we went to one of the practice fields some of the older boys – well, at least older than me – were playing at some kind of mock combat. I was so interested in watching them that I dropped the ball. It rolled onto the field and then everything went crazy. A pair of boys started kicking it, and then a few others tried to take it from them by kicking it away while also fighting them with their practice swords.


                “That led to a kind of mock combat with each of them trying to control the ball; moving it with their feet while using their practice swords to keep the others away. After a few minutes I noticed one of the boys - well, maybe he saw me first. I remember looking across the field while the other boys kicked the ball and fought each other. Then I got a strange feeling like someone was watching me. I looked around and saw a boy standing on the far side of the field, and he wasn’t playing with the others. He was just standing there, looking at me. His stare was really intense. Then he took to the field, and before I could blink he had the ball and was fighting off the others. He was amazing! I couldn’t believe how good he was. He defended himself with a practiced skill that made what he did look easy. Finally, he worked his way over to me. When he was right in front of me, he handed me the ball. He acted strange, like he wanted to say he really wanted to talk to me, or ask me something, but all he said was ‘Here’s your ball.’”


                “That doesn’t sound all that interesting to me, Jamie,” Charlie said, sounding puzzled. “I mean, you lost a ball, a boy gave it back to you, and that’s it. The way you seem to always think about him, I thought it was something more than that.”


                “There was, Charlie,” Jamie continued, fanning his wings lightly to dry them faster. “Two years ago, I was like you... well, not exactly like you, which I’m glad for,” he said, laughing. The expression on Charlie’s face and the rolling of his brother's eyes made Jamie laugh even more when he saw that his remark had gotten a reaction. “Sorry, what I mean is, I was having a hard time controlling my powers, just like you are. I’d be ok, and then all of a sudden, I’d pick up a thought, or sometimes a lot of thoughts. I’d pop into someone’s head, or bounce back and forth between more than one mind. It was very confusing, and sometimes scary.”


                “I know,” Charlie said glumly.


                “When this boy handed me the ball, something like that happened, but it was different.


                “You know how it is, Charlie - you never know exactly what you’re going to find inside of another person’s mind. Sometimes a person is calm on the outside, and angry in their thoughts. Or you pick up a distant memory – or a recent one – or a worry that's preoccupying them.”


                “Sure, all the time,” Charlie said.


                “And it’s never predictable.”


                “Yes,” Charlie agreed.


                “This was different. He handed me that ball, and when I reached out to grab it I brushed against his hand. There was something… I don’t know… something pure about him.”


                “Pure?” Charlie frowned, “That’s a strange thing to say, Jam. I mean, you can say he was happy, or sad, or mad, or that he liked you or didn’t like you, or that you picked up one of his thoughts, but pure?”


                “I don’t know, Charlie, and I know it sounds strange. It sounds just as strange to me when I try to explain it. All I know is that it was different. I touched his hand. He gave me that look… the one he’d given me earlier from across the practice field and there was something special, something pure about him. I can’t explain it any better. Then Father did something strange. After the boy left, he joined the others in practice. And then Father turned to me. He asked me, if I had to pick any of those crazy, screaming boys for a special friend, who I'd pick. I thought he was teasing me. They were all far too wild for me, but I pointed to the boy who’d returned the ball to me and said I’d pick him. For some reason Father seemed satisfied – even happy about that. It puzzled me, but I didn’t really question Father. I know he wouldn’t have really given me an explanation anyway; I could just tell. I guess I could have read his mind, but by then I was trying so hard to control it.


                “I think that’s why I find myself thinking about that boy from time to time. It was all so strange – going there, seeing him, Father’s question and reaction. And the feeling I got from that boy...I never felt anything like that before, and I've never felt anything like that since. It was just...unique. It was only for a few seconds, but I’ll always remember it. As soon as our connection was broken, I found I missed it. I think I’ve missed it ever since then. That’s why I think about it… and him.”


                “But you don’t even know who he is?”


                “No. I’m sure I never will, either. Father told me that those at the camp who are good become Gahdar – whatever that is. He told me that those who don’t become Gahdar go into expedition and service, or the army. I know some of them get killed, even in practice. So my chances of ever seeing him again, or knowing who he is…” his voice trailed off.


                “You never know, Jam,” Charlie said.


                “I know enough about statistics to know I couldn’t give it a high level of confidence.”


                “I guess you’re right. It’s just too bad you’ll never know who he was. And now you have me wondering what it felt like.”


                “I can’t give you a good description,” Jamie said, then looking up at the position of the sun in the sky jumped up. “It’s getting late, Charlie. We better get back.”


                “Sure,” Charlie said, following him.


                Back at the mirror, Jamie spoke his incantation and the mirror’s surface glowed. Charlie passed through and he quickly followed. When he stepped out of the mirror, he was standing directly behind Charlie, who was standing as still as a statue and staring straight ahead with a look of surprise on his face; the reason for his surprise clearly being the fact that, standing in front of both of them, were Mobley, Castor and his father.


                Instantly, Jamie moved to stand in front of Charlie. “It’s all my fault, Father,” he began to say, his voice shaking. “It was my idea. Charlie had nothing…”


                “I want both of you boys to come with me,” Edmond Croal said quietly as he gave both of them a stone-faced look.


                “But Father, really, it was me. Charlie…”


                “As I said,” Croal repeated softly and calmly, but without obvious anger, “I want both of you to come with me. We’ll discuss it in my study.” And then he walked out of the room, with Castor and Mobley following.


                Charlie looked wide-eyed at Jamie, and he could see a look of fear in his younger brother's eyes.


                “I’m sorry, Jamie,” Charlie squeaked. “This was all my fault… I just didn’t…”


                “Just go along with me, Charlie,” Jamie said, speaking softly and rapidly. “I’ll swear to Father it was all my idea. You won’t get punished.”


                “Young masters?” It was the voice of Castor calling after them.


                Both boys left the room and followed Croal, Castor, and Mobley down the corridor and into the lift. Not a word was spoken by anyone in the lift as it ascended, nor during the brief walk to Croal’s private office and study. Once in the study, Croal sat in his overstuffed reading chair and pointed to the long, leather padded bench opposite it – a seat Charlie had never occupied, but one that Jamie was quite familiar with. Jamie and Charlie draped their wings over the bench and sat down in slow motion - their faces twin masks of worry. For a while no one said a word as Croal examined both boys.


                “Charlie, why don’t you tell me what happened?” Croal asked quietly.


                Jamie shot Charlie a look, his thoughts racing out to his brother, but as Charlie spoke he told the story quickly, simply and honestly.


                “Very well. Thank you, Charlie,” Croal said still speaking softly, but looking quite serious – more serious than Jamie had ever seen him – which for Father was quite a feat, since he always looked serious.


                “Now, Jamie,” Croal said. “Let's hear your version.”


                “Charlie’s just trying to cover up for me. It all started this morning at breakfast. I saw how nice the water was and thought we could go swimming, but then I thought about the cliffs and, well, you know how you are looking for evidence of the Ghröum civilization. I thought I’d…,” but he abruptly stopped when he looked deep into his father's eyes. He’d been ready to spin an elaborate yarn, but he stopped, lowered his head and said, “Everything Charlie said is correct, Father.”


                “Very well,” Croal said a second time, carefully studying the two boys sitting in front him – their wings seeming to droop even more than their heads. Turning to Castor and the comp, he addressed both of them: "Would you excuse us for a while? There are some things I have to discuss privately with my sons.”


                After Castor and Mobley left, the silence that filled the room made Jamie want to scream. Finally not being able to stand the tension, he looked up earnestly at Croal. “Father, if it’s mucking the stables or scrubbing pots, I’ll do the stables. Charlie shouldn’t have to.”


                “No, Father, it was all my fault,” Charlie chimed in. “Jamie didn’t want to do it; I forced him, and I’m really sorry. I should clean the stables and do the pots, like he did when…”


                He stopped the instant Croal raised his hand. The scientist stood up, turned his back to them, and looked out one of the large windows of his study. For the longest time he simply stared out the window, looking at the pounding surf of the inlet and seeming to forget the boys were even in the room with him. Every so often, Jamie and Charlie shot anxious looks at each other. Finally turning back into the room, he surveyed both boys. Eventually, he resumed his seat.


                “Sometimes, my eyes deceive me,” he said, looking intently at the two boys he called sons. “They often see two children playing, doing their lessons, and sometimes getting into mischief, even as my head reminds me how advanced you really are. You’re bodies are still those of children, but you're also something more. Children don’t study advanced physics and higher mathematics. They don’t write essays on Existential philosophy or Nihilism.” And as he spoke his eyes went beyond their faces to their wings. Jamie shuddered when his eyes finally met his father’s and he saw something he’d never seen there – tears.


                “I’d hoped we’d have more time,” Croal said sadly. “I'd hoped I could hide you and shield you. I'd hoped I could teach you more, because there’s so much more you need to know. I wanted to give you the childhood Loran never had… I wanted you to be happy and safe, and…”


                Jamie’s eyes and thoughts went to Charlie. Charlie’s thoughts raced to Jamie as they intermingled. They were scared. They’d expected a scolding – even a severe punishment. Jamie certainly had gone though the program before, but this was very different.


                “The time draws near,” he said, “and I must get you ready… for the worst. I’m the one who’s sorry. I thought I was preparing you. But I also thought that we’d have more time. I just can’t assume that any more.”




                “No, I have the floor now, boys. You’ll get your chance. Charlie, you did the right thing. You told the truth and stood up for Jamie. I know your little adventure today was your idea. I keep this house under constant surveillance and Mobley’s been sharing information on the two of you for years. But today you took responsibility and you wouldn’t let your older brother cover up for you like he always does. That was a big step. I’m glad it’s finally come.”


                Turning to Jamie, he suddenly smiled and Jamie, expecting a sever lecture, blinked in surprise. “And you," Croal began. "I made you promise. Remember? And you’ve kept it all these years. Do you know how proud that makes me? You’ve kept him under your wing and looked after him. I’m so sorry, Jamie, you should have had that with Loran – what Charlie’s had with you. But that’s all in the music of the past. We must look to the future, and use what little time we have together to prepare you for what’s ahead."


                “What are you talking about father? We’ll always be together,” Jamie said.


                “Yes, you and Castor, and Mobley, and Annamera, and Jokum, and Marta, our whole family,” Charlie added.


                “I think that’s all for now,” Croal said. “We’ll have dinner, and I’ll tell you what I have planned in the time left – I just hope it’s enough. Now, go to your rooms until Castor calls you for dinner.”


                The boys, still giving each other confused looks, headed toward the door, but just as Charlie stepped back into the hall, Croal looked up as if remembering something. “Jamie, come back here and close the door behind you. I want to talk to you for a few minutes.” Looking beyond to Charlie, he saw a look of worry on Charlie’s face. “It fine, Charlie, he’s not in trouble. I just need to talk to him privately. Run along. He’ll be up soon.”


                Jamie gave Charlie a look and shrugged his shoulders. Charlie frowned, but obeying his father, he turned and walked away. With the door closed, Croal called his son over to him.


                “The studies you boys have been engaged in will be changing, Jamie. You and Charlie have a lot of catching up to do. You both have so much knowledge about so many things, but very little of it concerns the world I’ve brought you into. I realize now how foolish that was. Avrum warned me; I should have listened to him.” Turning his attention back to Jamie, he continued: “You will meet with me privately for at least two hours every morning, then you will join your brother for additional lessons. I’ll be telling you a few things that I only want to share with you. I also want you to work with your brother in helping him master and control his mental powers.”


                “What if I can’t?” Jamie said, sounding worried.


                “You’ll do your best,” Croal replied, “You’ll try. I know you will. No one’s ever had or been able to do what you have, Jamie. You’ve learned to master and control your ability. Maybe it’s because your powers aren’t as strong as his. Maybe it’s just your character and personality, but you have to be his teacher. It’s beyond me, and any one else on this planet. You’re the only one who’s ever done it, and your experience is invaluable. It could be life or death for Charlie. Do you understand? I’m very serious - it really could mean life and death for him.”


                “Yes, Father,” Jamie replied. “I'll try my best.”


                “Also, you and your brother will be undergoing an extensive study of history.”


                “History!” Jamie sputtered. “But I hate history.”


                “Listen,” Croal said, his voice filled with anger for the first time Jamie could ever recall. “It’s not the kind of history you’ve studied before. It’s not about the First or Second Dynastic successions, or the War of Stones. It’s a completely different history – one I think you will find will grab and hold your interest.”


                Jamie nodded quietly and remained silent.


                “There’ve been times I’d wished that temper of yours was more under control, but now maybe it’s good you have it. I can see that when the jackals come, a lion must face them.”


                “What do you mean, Father?”


                “You’ll find out soon enough, son. You’ve done well, my beautiful boy. I know your dream has always been to work with me. There’s nothing more special that I’d have cherished more, but there are more important tasks ahead. Every era needs a brave champion – a knight, a leader. I want you to remember that. And I want you to do whatever you have to, in order to protect your brother."


                “Yes, Father,” he answered in a whisper. “Of course. I’ll always protect Charlie.”


                “The two of you may eventually be the only thing  each of you can depend on. I hope not, but I can’t sure. I’ve tried to stack the deck in your favor, but I can’t see the future. Now, go join your brother. I’m sure he’s a bit scared about all this – you know how sensitive he can be sometimes. At dinner, I’ll begin to outline my plans for both of you. And tomorrow, I’ll expect to find you standing in front of this door by the seventh bell, and your first lesson will be about your older brother, Loran.”


                “My older brother?” Jamie had begun to rise from the bench, but his father’s words caused him drop back down on it, staring at Croal in disbelief.


                “Yes.” Croal said. “It's a painful and sad story, and one I should have told you a long time ago.”


                That evening at dinner, their father outlined his plan of study. And as was the nature of his personality, it was highly structured, methodical, and planned to the minute.


                “I don’t know how much time we have left,” Croal repeated to the boys for a second time at the dinner table, as he presented his plan. “We have to make every minute count, so I’ve structured a hierarchy. There are things that are critical for you to know – they’re first on the list. From there, the hierarchy descends to important things you need to know if I have time to get to them, and then things that would be good to teach you, but I might never have time for. I’ve had it planned for some time, only I thought I wouldn’t have to institute it so quickly.”


                That evening, before they went to bed, Charlie appeared in Jamie’s room, standing at the foot of his bed.


                “I'm really scared,” Charlie said.


                “I know how you’re feeling. Even if I don’t try, I can sense it. But Father says we have to stick together, no matter what. And we will – I promise.”


                “Can I sleep with you, Jam?” Charlie said casting his eyes to the floor, feeling embarrassed to ask.


                “Sure, Charlie. The size of my bed is the same as it’s always has been. It hasn’t shrunk, but we’ve grown. We just have to arrange our wings. It’s been a while since we slept together, and your wings are almost as big as mine, now.”


                It took a little maneuvering, but soon the boys were sharing the same bed, with Spinoza contentedly curled up between to two sets of feet.


                “I don’t even know what I have to be scared about yet, but I can tell from Father’s thoughts I should be,” Charlie said, speaking to the darkness after the lights in Jamie’s room were off.


                “I know, Charlie. I don’t either, but starting tomorrow we’ll find out.” Jamie said wrapping his arm around his younger brother. “Try not to think about it too much, and get some sleep. I have a feeling, from what Father told us, we have a lot to learn.”


                That was indeed true. The fact was, Croal had kept the boys as isolated as possible. He’d located his villa as far away from any of the empire’s cities or seats of power as he could. Isewier sat at the southern most tip of the continent – and Dragon’s Cove lay to the south of Isewier. The only humans the boys had contact with had been Croal and some of his lab assistants. Other than Jamie’s one trip to the training camp at Compari, neither boy had ever had contact with another Icarian. Their only companions, outside of each other, were the Kalorian household staff, and the residents of the Kalorian settlements in Isewier.


                The next day, and for many days thereafter, they followed their father’s plan. Still using Mobley as their tutor, Croal downloaded the necessary information and the little comp continued to teach the boys. At the same time, Jamie began his own private sessions with his father, and the information and knowledge the scientist shared with his son was unbelievable. And as their lessons continued the one thing Jamie could sense was his father’s frustration – as if he had so much to tell him, but not enough time.


                Croal grew relentless in his teaching sessions, training his son as rigorously in mental exercises as Master Sakki trained his young Gahdar physically. It was in one of their sessions Jamie had learned what Gahdar were – what they really were! And with that knowledge he began to work on cracking the net. Not just his father’s private net, but also the main net. When he wasn’t studying with his father or Charlie, he went into his private station in the lab and worked. Although he didn’t know it, Croal was following his progress. Watching everything he did, but never intervening, he wanted to see how far his son would go and what he would do as more knowledge was presented to him. He was also interested to see how Jamie would act when encountering obstacles. Finally the day came when the neural net was breached and Croal sat quietly in his office, watching the data stream in from Ajax Prime. What was even more amazing was how the boy had tapped into it in such a way that as long as the connection time remained within certain parameters, it would never be detected.


                “Now he’s ready to go to move on to the next stage,” Croal thought.


                After Jamie breached the neural net on Ajax Prime, Croal knew it was only a matter of time before everything would become unraveled and he quickly initiated a rigorous program of mental exercises for Jamie. Often finishing their sessions with amazing headaches, Jamie continued to try with all his might. The truth he’d learned from his father and the net had come to mean too much to him.


                While father had told him not to reveal too much of their private sessions to Charlie, it was hard for Jamie to keep things from his brother. Eager for Charlie to know the truth, he would often let a fact slip that would lead to Charlie asking a hundred questions. And Jamie’s work with Charlie to help him control his powers often led to Charlie accidentally learning things.



                So it’s really true we’re princes?” Charlie said one day after he and Jamie had finished their studies for the day and were heading to their rooms. His voice was full of disbelief. The revelation that they’d had an older brother came as a shock, but the fact that they were aristocrats – high nobility – was simply unbelievable to the young boy.


                “Father showed me the genetics, Charlie, and it’s true. Just like Loran – although our bloodline is a bit different from his.”


                “I always thought we were named after the de Valèn line as an homage, Jam, not because we’re actually a part of it,” Charlie replied still shocked over the revelation. “I can’t believe we have some of de Valèn’s blood flowing through us.” Charlie had always been the lover of history, and he was more than familiar with The Founder and House de Valèn.


                “We’re a lot more than just a part of the de Valèn line,” Jamie said. “Loran is a part of the line in the sense that you mean. Some of his genetics came from people related to The Founder, but our bloodline begins with the Founder. It came directly from him. It’s like he is our father.”


                “But Father’s our father,” Charlie said, sounding confused and a bit upset.


                “Of course Father's our father,” Jamie retorted with a deep sigh. “I didn’t say he wasn’t. It’s because of him that we’re alive. Where our genetics and bloodline comes from is one thing, who our father is – well Charlie, that’s something totally different. But the genetic material that helped to create us came directly from Jacques de Valèn himself – The real Founder! I’ve done some research. In the whole empire there are quite a few people who proudly trace themselves back to the Founder, but that number is highly – and falsely – inflated. The true percentage of genetic material from The Founder, even if it really is flowing through their veins… well it’s not very large. Even the Emperor and his family – although they claim direct descendancy – don’t have one drop of de Valèn blood – the secret Imperial archives are very clear about that. There hasn’t even been a living de Valèn for over five hundred years.


                “You know how the empire’s been built on genetics and blood lines. The Decree of the Trége declared the de Valèn family name null after the last de Valèn died. It states that one must have at least a sixteenth proven de Valèn blood in them to use the family name. Charlie, we have over ninety  – more like ninety three percent! The other seven percent are from genetic material that Father either used from others or modified. Loran is lucky if he has two percent de Valèn blood flowing through his veins, and that’s considered a high amount these days.”


                “And it’s really true that those flags that have always hung in our rooms are really our heraldic banners?” Charlie asked in a tone of amazement.


                “Father researched them and had them created for us – for the day when we might need them,” Jamie said his voice growing soft.


                “Why would we need heraldic banners?” Charlie asked, a bit confused. “Banners like that are used to identify princes, it’s true, but they’re used at court or ceremony and in war to identify them along with their generals, officers, and troops.”


                “I don’t know,” Jamie said, hoping Charlie’s ability to control his thoughts had improved to the point where he wouldn’t catch Jamie in a lie, since Jamie had a good idea how his father intended them to be used.


                “I can’t believe how much you’ve learned, Jam,” Charlie said, “and that you’ve shared it with me. It helps me when I get scared – which seems to be a lot lately.”


                But the truth was that the things both boys learned amazed them. Viewing historical records directly from the imperial archives, they saw things they could hardly imagine. Supplementing information with old visual records, documents, and highly classified information, their knowledge grew. Croal had been right: this wasn’t like studying the second dynastic succession. It wasn’t history like anything Jamie had ever studied, and he became more and more interested as his knowledge grew. Charlie, on the other hand, withdrew from the knowledge – often becoming upset over the images he saw. More and more often, Jamie would find him standing at the foot of his bed at night, his eyes pleading with his older brother to let him into his bed. The more fearful Charlie became, the more protective Jamie grew.


                “I promise, Charlie,” Jamie said one night to his sleeping brother as he curled up next to him. “I know I promised Father. I know I promised you. But I promise myself that I’ll protect you, no matter what I have to do, or who I have to fight. Father doesn’t think I understand, but I really do now.”


                Late at night, still sitting in his study, Croal paused the feed and replayed it time after time – hearing his older son repeat over and over his pledge to protect his younger brother.


                “I truly hope you can,” Croal said to himself. “I’ve made you a Gahdar, my beautiful son. A Gahdar of the mind – the fiercest one ever created. I only hope you can succeed. I fear Charlie won’t survive without you.”


                Switching off the feed, Croal went to bed. As soon as it switched off, Jamie carefully and quietly crawled out of his bed, trying not to disturb Charlie. He knew he’d have to be quick. He didn’t want his little brother waking up alone. He guessed Charlie might panic if he didn’t see him lying there beside him. He’d felt the feed that his father had installed switch off – just like he felt the energy of the net, and even the switching on and off of the lights  throughout the villa. Somehow, during his father’s exercises, he’d become aware of things he’d thought unimaginable, and while he hadn’t completely shared all his abilities with his father, he knew full well what he was now capable of doing. Physics had been the vault, mathematics its key, and once he’d gained access, he'd discovered a wealth that made the riches in the Emperor’s vast treasure vaults seem like nothing more than piles of worthless stones.


                Since he was wearing his sleeping shorts, he didn’t bother to get dressed and quickly padded barefoot toward the bedroom door. Upon hearing a soft akk he turned and froze, watching through the dim light of the room as Spinoza glided toward him. Landing on his shoulder, the garga lizard began to chirp softly.


                “Shh, Spinoza,” Jamie said softly, “We don’t want to wake everyone up.”


                Seeming to understand every word, Spinoza bobbed its head at its master and, cocking one eye at Jamie, studied its master’s face. Quickly they made their way to the lift and took it to the first level of the lab. Upon entering the lab, Jamie went directly to his workstation. Spinoza lept from Jamie’s shoulder and landed on a stack of books piled next to the informatics screen in front of the workstation. Once Jamie’d arrived at his station in the darkened lab, the private neural net he’d created switched on without him touching a single button, or throwing a switch. The program was now in his head, and somehow he just made it happen. The walls of security he’d build into it were beyond even the most powerful and sophisticated spy technology of the empire. Standing in front of the interactive informatic screen on the table, he watched it flash rapidly as images and data raced before his eyes, dancing to the commands of his thoughts. Finally, the screen stopped on a single image. Pausing for a few seconds, his senses told him there were no monitors or devices checking on him. For the longest time he stood staring at the image he’d accessed. At one point he reached out his hand and his fingers brushed against the cool hard surface of the screen as he touched the handsome face displayed on it. Sensing the importance of the image on the screen to its master, Spinoza tilted its head and looked at it along with Jamie.


                Physically, the boy was now roughly fourteen, according to the initial data Jamie brought up. Absorbing the information in the boy’s file, he learned he was scheduled to begin training with Sakki at Rood – a strange fact in itself, since the old Gahdar master had retired from training and hadn’t instructed anyone for over 12 years. He also learned a number of other things – hidden things that he’d gotten from a private source. That source – much like his father’s net – had been severed from the main imperial net in order to avoid detection. It was a treasure trove of data and had been constructed with such skill that he was sure even the best spies in the empire couldn’t detect it. But he had, after a rigorous and intense search. It had been elegantly constructed – as beautiful as any work of art he’d ever seen. When he’d first attempted to breach its defenses and crack its codes, he’d let his mind meld with it and sat silently for almost an hour, carefully examining and marveling at its mathematical complexity. But just like his training led him to discover its existence, that same training easily allowed him to unlock its secrets. In fact, it had only taken a thought to breach its security and access its files. And once inside, he’d greedily absorbed its data as quickly as a starving man gulps down a meal.


                When he’d finished, he prepared to sever the connection, but something stopped him. From deep inside he felt a yearning to feel it again. He’d told Charlie he thought of the boy and the feeling he’d gotten from him only on rare occasions, but the truth was there hadn’t been a day since his hand brushed against that of the young Gahdar-to-be that he hadn’t thought about him. The word he’d used to describe it to Charlie was ‘pure.’ That was still the word – pure. Jamie was sure of it. He yearned to feel it again. The face of the boy on the screen staring back at Jamie was only slightly older than the image of the real boy he’d met two years before. Below the image, the name Niklas von Agramos appeared along with some genetic and genealogical data. The data was interesting – especially a brief and cryptic notation at the end of the file. He made a mental note of it. It was something he’d have to check on – just not now.


                Thoughts of Charlie alone in the bed upstairs caused him to resist the urge to stare at the image any longer. Carefully backtracking his way out of the net to avoid detection, he made sure that he’d not only covered his tracks, but also repaired the breach he’d incurred so that it could never be detected. Then, with a rather nonchalant and half-focused thought, the screen snapped off as he rose from his seat. Calling softly to Spinoza he waited patiently until the little lizard was once more perched on his shoulder. Then walking across the lab and closing the door behind him, he quietly made his way back upstairs to his bedroom.