The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'


Part II - Prince of Mondele Royale


Chapter 29


Sitting alone in his private dressing room at the opera house, Jamie mentally prepared for the evening's performance. After an abbreviated practice earlier in the afternoon and then his usual pre-performance stretching exercises in one of the small private studios of the opera house, he’d arrived at his dressing room a few minutes ahead of schedule, giving him time for reflection. A light dinner - half-eaten since he wasn't hungry - sat cooling and abandoned on a nearby side table. Accustomed to the ritual of preparation, his reverie was barely disturbed by the bustling arrival of his personal dresser and his make-up artist. Since they’d been with him for quite some time, both men had gotten used to the boy and seen his many moods. Finding him pensive they knew to respect his silence, so when they completed their efforts, both quietly slipped out of the room with just a gentle wish for good luck.


After being shaken awake by Castor, Jamie’s day had followed its regular routine, bringing with it nothing unusual or out of the ordinary, with the sole exception that it marked his fifteenth birthday. Because of Altinestra’s fourteen-month year he was seventeen and a half Commonwealth standard, but fifteen by the local calendar. Fifteen marked the official end of an Icarian boy’s puberty cycle, and although he was still quite young, Jamie was now considered an adult. His physical aging would slow to a crawl as attributes like height, weight, and appearance would remain fixed for many years to come.


As he sat alone in his dressing room, his eyes stared into his mirror but his thoughts had flown to his brother. Today was also Charlie’s birthday. His brother, two years younger, would be over fifteen by Commonwealth reckoning. Remembering their last joint birthday celebration three years past, Jamie sighed. How he would have loved to spend the day with Charlie, but it just wasn’t possible. After re-establishing contact with his brother a few months before, he’d only managed to see Charlie one other time – and that only briefly, when he and his three friends from Trio Chrysalis managed to make a second clandestine trip to Ghröum. Just the thought of the trio and the Ghröum together brought a little smile to his lips. The three had managed to overcome their fear of Charlie's caretakers, and had even put on an impromptu little show for them, though they'd still cringed a bit at the roars of approval their antics garnered.


A sudden, sharp twinge of pain shot through his head, making him wince. Growing up, he'd rarely experienced headaches, but during the past four months he’d been getting his share, headaches that might last as little as thirty seconds, or sometimes as long as twelve hours. The pain quickly faded after Jamie reflexively put a hand to his head – hopefully, this would be one of the shorter ones. “My brain is chock-full of too many things,” he thought.


Getting up from his seat, he walked across the floor to the full-length mirror in his small dressing room and considered his appearance. He was dressed in a short white tunic trimmed in golden piping. “So this is me for the next fifty... or one hundred.. maybe two hundred years?” he thought critically. He frowned when he considered his height. He’d always hoped to be a bit taller, but he knew that at fifteen, the boy staring back at him would remain at his current height for a very long time. “Happy birthday, Prince de Valèn,” Jamie said softly to the figure in the mirror. The boy staring back at him said nothing. Turning his back on his image, Jamie resumed his seat.


Although the Emperor and a fair percentage of the local nobility attended most of his performances, it was the height of the summer season and the Imperial court was away at the Emperor’s summer palace in the southern city of Imperialas. With the ruling class absent from Küronas, the pressure to perform wasn’t as intense. In fact, all the staff and entertainers of La Mondele were a bit more relaxed and at ease. While there would probably be a respectable crowd in the theater this evening, many of the nobility followed the emperor’s example and currently vacationed, so report that the theater was only a little more than half filled was more of a relief than a disappointment. Jamie’s friends from Trio Chrysalis had decided to try out some new routines, and this evening’s performance would be the perfect venue.


For the past few weeks, Jamie had been working with the team of engineers, technicians and stage hands the Emperor had placed at his disposal, and he knew that the act he was preparing at the Hall of the Cristal Sphere for the Emperor’s birthday celebration would be a true show stopper. So since he was still choreographing his dance routine for the imperial celebration, instead of trying out any new moves like his friends, Jamie had decided to dredge up a suite of reinterpreted Kalorian folk dances he’d performed in the past. The dance was an elegant yet simple rendition that wasn’t too taxing at a time when he was already stretching his limits for the imperial birthday celebration.


He’d just closed his eyes and begun to mentally review the evening's act when the door burst open and his three friends barged in. Dressed in wildly colorful costumes – their wings decorated with glitter and painted highlights – the boys of Chrysalis seemed more than excited.


“You’ve got to see this,” Jeremy yelled as Lucas pulled Jamie off his stool.


“What?” Jamie said, making no attempt to hide his annoyance; as much as he loved his friends, there were times when their frenetic hyperactivity was a bit much.


“Just come. Hurry! Please!” Yves said in such an infectiously excited tone that Jamie found his curiosity piqued.


Quickly winding their way through underground tunnels, up ramps, and through corridors, they finally arrived at the left wing of the stage.


“And now,” Lucas said triumphantly, his arm gesturing in an exaggerated, dramatic sweep. “Look!”


Jamie stood at a juncture where stage left and its wing met. A small gap between the curtain of the stage and the wall of the wing was just enough for him to peer out. When he did, his jaw dropped in surprise.


“I told you that you had to see it for yourself,” Jeremy said smugly.


Jamie kept staring in an attempt to make completely sure what his brain told him his eyes were seeing was indeed real: sitting in the first four rows of the orchestra were the Gahdar of Castle Rood.


“They’re all here,” Lucas whispered breathlessly, “all one hundred and three of them.”


“That’s fifty-one duets plus a half,” Jeremy added.


“I can count,” Jamie answered in a stage whisper. “And just when did all of you become experts in the arena games?” he added.


“Well, look at them,” Lucas said, ignoring Jamie’s obvious sarcasm. “They’re perfect... every one of them.”


“And see, Jamie, in the very first row near the center,” Yves said. “Is that him? Is that your Gahdar?”


“If you mean Niklas Agramon,” Jamie said as he began to frown, “it’s him. If you’re asking if he’s my Gahdar, well, I think you misunderstood me.”


Like most Avionne boys going through puberty, Jamie and his friends had engaged in more than a few conversations about the boys they liked, or were attracted to, and the eventual possibility of finding a mate. On one such occasion, when the four of them were discussing some of the boys at the school, Jamie happened to mention in passing that not every eligible boy was a member of the academy or lived on the Mountain of the Arts. Citing Miro and his mate Philippe, Jamie pointed out that one couldn’t find a more unlikely couple, but the two boys were very much in love.


“It sounds like you have someone in mind,” Lucas said, quick to pounce on Jamie’s example.


“Yes, like you’ve been thinking about it,” Jeremy added. “Is there an unlikely someone you’re interested in?”


Jamie immediately denied it, but his friends knew him well enough not to blindly accept his sure and quick reply. It took some persuasion, but eventually he admitted that there was one boy he’d been thinking about for a long time. When he told them, his friends reacted with amazement.


“A Gahdar?” Yves said. “A warrior?”


“I just said I thought he was interesting, that’s all,” Jamie replied, trying to sound annoyed. “You asked me if there was anyone who I thought was interesting, and I told you. I didn’t say I was looking for a mate.”


“I wonder why they came tonight?” Jeremy asked, rousing Jamie from his thoughts.


“Because of me,” Jamie said, suddenly realizing why the entire garrison of Gahdar from Castle Rood was there.


“What? Are you getting a big head?” Jeremy asked. “I mean there are other performers here, you know.”


“No, no, that’s not what I mean at all,” Jamie said. “You all remember when I was invited by the Emperor to attend the games?”


His three friends nodded.


“Well, when the games concluded and everyone was leaving, the Emperor called me over and asked me if I’d enjoyed them. You all know what I really thought, but I couldn’t tell him that, so I said they were interesting and thanked him for inviting me – what else could I do? He asked a few more questions and I ended up mentioning that what we do as dancers here at La Mondele and what the Gahdar do at Castle Rood are in some ways similar, since we’re both performers and athletes. I told him that since I’d seen a tournament, maybe the Gahdar could come to the opera house and watch one of our performances. I only said it in passing and I didn’t take it seriously, but apparently the Emperor did. Now that I think about it, his assistant did have his comp out, taking notes. I just never would have expected it to happen.”


“Well, they’re here,” Lucas said, “and I, for one, am going to give them a great performance.” Yves and Jeremy quickly nodded in agreement.


“I can see why you’re attracted to him,” Lucas said. “I mean, what a boy! He’s really handsome. They say he killed a wild tusk boar with his bare hands.”


“I never said...” but then Jamie paused, fell silent, and put a hand to his mouth. “Oh no,” he finally said.


“What’s wrong?” Yves asked.


“By the Emperor’s beard,” Jamie said sounding forlorn. “I’m performing the absolute worst program possible. It’s an off night, and I’ve been so busy choreographing my act for the imperial birthday celebration that I chose something really easy... and stupid."


“It’s ok,” Yves said. “You can be sure that even if you just jumped up and down on stage those boys wouldn’t know the difference. I doubt they’ve ever been to a dance performance at Le Mondele. In fact, I’m fairly sure that they’ve never set foot in this or any other opera house or theater in their entire lives.”


“And remember,” Lucas replied sarcastically, “you said you weren’t trying to impress any of them, especially Niklas von Agramon.”


Ignoring Lucas remark Jamie just stared at the floor in thought; a few seconds passed and he began to nibble on one of his fingers, and finally he looked up and gave his friends a grin.


“Jamie?” Yves said with a tone of caution. “You’re giving us one of your looks.”


“No, I’m not.”


“Yes, you are,” Yves said. “You’re always telling us how transparent we are to you. Well, did you ever think that sometimes it runs both ways?”


“What is it, Jamie?” Jeremy asked putting his hand on his friends shoulder and staring into Jamie’s sparkling blue eyes. “What are you thinking?”


“There's nothing says I have to perform the routine I picked tonight, is there?” Jamie said in a deliberately pensive tone.


“Well, nothing except that it’s been on the program for weeks, people paid to see it, the orchestra’s been rehearsing the music, the set was built, the...


“Irrelevant,” Jamie said, sweeping away every one of his friend's arguments. “It's all irrelevant. Programs change. Things happen.”


“I don’t like where this is headed,” Yves said.


“Fly up the wind,” Lucas said, giving Jamie one of his wicked smiles. “What do you have to lose?”


“He’s right,” Yves reluctantly agreed, ready to quickly concede defeat. “It’s a waste of time to try and talk you out of it. So what do you want us to do?”


“Well Yves, you can help me do a quick costume and make up change," Jamie commanded. “Lucas and Jeremy, go out on stage to the orchestra pit and tell the conductor to pull up music for the Redalta and have it ready.”


“The Redalta? Isn’t that the Kalorian seduction dance? The one that the women do when...”


“It’s just a dance,” Jamie said sharply. “Yes, it’s traditionally done by the women, but I’ve been working on a male version for some time.”


“Right, and now’s as good a time as any for an unveiling,” Lucas said, grinning from ear to ear. “Jamie, you're downright evil.”


“I’m just performing something decent, instead of that old stale program I’d planned.”


“Sure, I understand,” Lucas said with a giggle. “These Gahdar are big dance aficionados and you’re just trying to give them their money's worth.”


“Something like that,” Jamie said, not able to keep a straight face.


As Lucas pushed back the curtain and skirted the edge of the stage to get to the orchestra, Jeremy and Yves followed Jamie back to his dressing room. After Jamie quickly stripped down to his dance belt he pulled on a set of short tights and Yves quickly helped him redo his makeup. Playing with his hair Jamie frowned as the same single unruly shock that always flopped down over his eyes refused to cooperate.


“Leave it,” Yves said, “it’s your cutest feature.”


“You really think so?” Jamie said. “It’s been a bother forever, and Castor always...”


“Trust me, it is,” Yves interrupted.


“I always thought my eyes were my cutest feature.”


“No, your eyes are your most striking feature,” Yves said, his voice quite neutral. “There’s a difference. Your eyes are blue liquid pools that a boy could drown in. They’re hypnotic and quite amazing.”


“I didn’t know you were that enthralled,” Jamie said flashing a quick smile at Yves while still trying unsuccessfully to get his hair the way he wanted it.


“I told you to leave it,” Yves said pulling Jamie’s hand away from his hair. Turning to look Jamie in the eye, Yves gave his friend a critical appraisal.


“What?” Jamie asked feeling a bit uncomfortable under Yves intense gaze. In the awkwardness of the moment Jamie turned to the makeup table behind him, stared into the mirror and began dabbing a tiny amount of color on his lips. He'd always hated the bright red lip rouge he was forced to wear as a junior. As soon as he moved to the senior troupe and became a headline act, Jamie’d refused to let anyone else apply it. Knowing he needed to wear some on stage to add a bit of color, he nevertheless always used it quite sparingly.


“Jamie, the Redalta really is traditionally a female dance. How exactly are you going to do it?” Yves asked.


“I’ve reinterpreted it from a masculine point of view. All I’m going to tell you is to be sure and watch me dance it.”


“You can count on that. I have a feeling that even though it’s a bit crazy, you’ll somehow succeed and I can’t wait to see how you’re going to pull it off.”


Just then the door of his dressing room flew open with a crash as Jeremy and Lucas dashed into the room.


“Ok,” Lucas began, pausing to take a few breaths since he and Jeremy had run all the way from the stage to Jamie’s dressing room, “the orchestra is going to play it. The conductor wasn’t very happy to hear you’re changing the program, and he almost refused, but someone found a copy of the piece in the music library.”


“Great, thank you so much,” Jamie said.


“Let's go back up to the stage,” Yves said. “The senior troupe will be starting any second now. As soon as they’re done we follow, and then Jamie's on after us.”


The boys, now energized by the evening’s turn of events, ran back to the stage and impatiently waited until it was their turn to perform.


Meanwhile, fidgeting uncomfortably in their seats, the Gahdar of Castle Rood were exhibiting some impatience of their own.


“I still want to know whose bloody idea this was,” Mercury groused for the tenth time as he tried to get more comfortable – a task he’d begun attempting the second his posterior connected with the soft velvet cushion of his seat.


“How are we supposed to know?” Sixtus replied, leaning forward to look down the row at Mercury, “and if you keep asking, I’m going to put you in a head lock and drag you out of here.”


“If anyone gets put in a head lock, it’s going to be Tiberius,” Gray growled, turning to the boy on his right. “If you poke me in the ribs one more time...."


“I can’t help it. These seats are so small,” Tiberius protested.


His remark was met with quite a few nods and shouts of agreement.


“And the arm rests,” Gault complained, “they’re so bloody narrow there’s no place to spread my arms."


“Unless you’re Tiberius,” Gray growled even louder, “and you keep poking everyone in the ribs.”


“Well, at least you’re not getting slapped in the head by Hermes' wings every five seconds like I am,” Prometheus protested.


“What’s the problem, boys?” Miro said turning around in his seat and giving his fellow Gahdar a mischievous grin. He was sitting front row center with his brother David on his right and his best friend Niklas to his left. “They brought you here to enjoy a little entertainment and all you can do is complain. They even specially modified the seating for us to accommodate our wings.”


“Well, not everyone’s a part of the imperial household, your lordship,” Tiberius barked at Miro. “Maybe you’re used to fancy balls and parties, evening barge concerts on the canals, and highbrow opera, but we’re Gahdar. What do the rest of us know of this?”


“It wouldn’t hurt you to pick up a little culture,” Miro chuckled. “Maybe you’d have better luck attracting a mate.”


“By my wings,” David said, chortling at Miro’s remark, “you’re all worse than a bunch of little girls. Just sit back and enjoy the evening. Maybe some of it will actually sink into your thick skulls and improve your intelligence.”


“Miro, you’d better tell your little brother to be quiet or he’s going to find himself in more than a headlock. If he loses a few teeth, that pretty face of his won’t look so pretty anymore,” Gray hissed.


“Quiet, all of you,” Niklas said as he stood up from his seat and faced his comrades in arms. “We are Gahdar. The only time most people see us is at Rood, fighting.”


“And...?” Gray said a bit sarcastically.


“And this is an opportunity for them to see us as more than mere fighters,” Niklas continued. “It may not be something we’re used to doing, but maybe that’s good. It’s a different venue for us. So even if we all don’t enjoy it equally, we can at least exercise a little civility. Is that too much to ask?”


There was silence, a silence that came out of respect for the speaker. A few of the Gahdar frowned, a few nodded in agreement, but no words of protest were spoken.


“Very well,” Niklas said. “I suggest we watch the performance and show everyone here that there’s more to the Gahdar than just swords and blood and the accumulation of points. Does that make sense to everyone?”


“Perfect sense,” Miro said, smiling as his eyes scanned the seated Gahdar.


“As you request, Le’ir Bahr a’Ronei,” Gray grudgingly replied, using the honorific all of the Gahdar privately used when addressing Nic.


“Good,” Niklas said resuming his seat. “No one said you have to adore everything you see, but this is an opportunity for us to be seen in a different light. I think we should grow in every way possible – not just in the arena.”


At the conclusion of Niklas' remarks, the boys stopped complaining. There was something in Niklas von Agramon’s nature that always exuded well-reasoned logic – a logic that was usually sensible and hard to disagree with.


After Niklas was back in his seat no further discussion ensued between the Gahdar, although Tiberius and Gray continued to silently fight over the armrest they shared.


Presently the lights dimmed, the orchestra struck up a tune, and the curtain rose on the senior troupe. The senior boys began their act by presenting a lively and spirited dance that had the audience clapping in time with the music. Additional numbers were staged and when the curtain finally fell on the seniors, the audience gave them a strong round of applause that the Gahdar enthusiastically joined in with.


“Not bad,” Cato said. “It wasn’t at all what I expected."


“You see?” Miro grinned, “Maybe you boneheads are acquiring a little culture.”


“Who asked your opinion?” Gray groused.


“But they really were good,” Tiberius whispered from the next seat over. “It reminds me of us a bit. It must take a lot of hard work and practice.”


“Along with strength and concentration,” Sixtus added quietly.


Before any of the other boys could speak, an off-stage announcer started to introduce the next act – Trio Chrysalis. Once more the orchestra began playing and the curtain rose. The stage was empty and for a few seconds nothing happened until out of stage left three boys in wildly colorful costumes and makeup exploded onto the stage in a series of dizzying piqué turns. Quickly moving together from right to left stage en pointe and alternating feet so quickly their legs were blurred, they executed an amazing set of rapid chaînés turns, each ending in a spectacular attitude leap that left the crowd breathless from their cheering.


Without a moment's hesitation, Yves - en pointe - went into a solo pirouette à la seconde, spinning like a top with his working leg in second position à la hauteur. Seconds later, first Jeremy and then Lucas followed until all three were performing one of the most strenuous technical moves a male dancer can execute. The audience stomped their feet, cheered, and clapped wildly.


With a quick down stroke of their wings immediately followed by strong, muscular leaps, the trio took their routine fifteen feet above the stage floor. As the dance progressed the boys' amazing moves became ever more daring as ballet, gymnastics, and absolute aerial proficiency were blended to create a series of routines, each more spectacular than the last. When the act was finally over and the music faded, the three boys gently floated to the stage floor. Flashing mischievously charming smiles, they clasped hands and bowed. A torrent of flowers landed on stage as the audience rose to their feet and applauded. Bowing once again, the boys each picked up one of the many bouquets, raised them high above their heads, and then bowed again to nonstop thunderous applause. Seconds later they were gone and the curtain fell.


Caught up in the moment, the Gahdar of Castle Rood joined the rest of the audience and rose from their seats, applauding the three amazing boys. When the curtain finally fell and everyone took their seats, a buzz of excited conversation could be heard rising from the Gahdar seats.


“By the Emperor’s beard,” Tiberius said, “that was bloody amazing!”


“They are like us,” Gray said, somewhat surprised at his own reaction. “They’re not fighting, but they’re perfectly trained – like synchronized machines.”


“Like us,” Agrippa agreed.


“I’m glad to see you’re all so bored,” Miro said sarcastically, laughing at his fellow Gahdar.  He didn't want to show it, but he was secretly pleased that they were enjoying the evening. He and David had been tapped early in their careers to be part of the imperial household when they were chosen by the Emperor himself to serve as his personal team. And while each duet was attached to a noble household, most of their patrons were more than content to let their teams live at the Gahdar barracks at Rood, where they fought and trained. The twins had enjoyed a life of pampered comfort that most of the other Gahdar could only dream about.


“Did you see the redhead?” Tiberius said. “He was absolutely the best.”


“No, the dark haired one was,” Agrippa shouted out, disagreeing with Tiberius. “What a beauty!"


“Well, the blond was amazing, and I think he was easily the cutest of all of them,” Jupiter said, his jaw beginning to jut as he defended his favorite.


“Are you pleased with their performance or just smitten by their looks?” David said, chuckling. “I think we should send a message to those boys through the stage manager, warning them that they’re going to have to hide; it sounds as if most of you are ready to storm the stage in search of a mate.”


“Any one of them would surely be a catch,” Tiberius said.


“A delicious catch,” Jupiter agreed.


The gladiator boys continued to discuss Chrysalis, their amazing performance, and their beautiful bodies, until a voice off stage began to announce the next act.


“It is with great pleasure that La Mondele Royale presents a performer of great renown, our very own Prince who, this evening, will perform for your enjoyment and delight the Redalta." The orchestra began to play, the curtain slowly rose and the announcer concluded, “Lords and Ladies, Ladies and Gentleman, the Imperial Opera House of the Canon Mon Arts is pleased to present Jamie de Valèn, the Prince of La Mondele Royale.”


The medium-sized crowd applauded politely and sat back in their seats in anticipation. The rising curtain revealed a bare, darkened stage. The music flowing from the orchestra continued in a slow, soft, and steady beat like a distant heart. A spotlight sent a sudden burst of light lancing into the onstage darkness. Standing motionless in its brilliance was a boy, bare-chested and barefoot, wearing only short tights that ended above his knees. The Kalorian Redalta was in the Bolero genre – a piece with a steady beat starting slow and soft, then steadily and over time building in intensity until it reached a racing, heart pounding, wild conclusion. As the orchestra played, Jamie began a slow, swaying, languorous dance in time with the hypnotic beat of the music. As the dance unfolded, it quickly became clear that he was performing as a young suitor beckoning a lover to his presence, to his side, and to his bed.


With each repetitive cycle of the song, the tempo of the music increased and its volume grew. Beckoning to the audience, Jamie appeared to be calling, cajoling, pleading, and even demanding. Twisting and turning, leaping and gliding, he exuded the strong, sensual presence of a young man yearning for his lover. One seductive move followed another as Jamie moved with poise and grace across the stage floor until finally he went into first position, and with a mighty leap accompanied by a powerful stroke of his large wings, he took his dance to the air. Like the courting ritual of the beautiful and amazing fire-tail eagles of Angels Fall, Jamie's performance was as raw and powerful as a force of nature. To all those watching, he seemed to glide through the air like a feather on the wind, growing bolder with each increase in tempo and rise in volume as the music moved toward its well-known and spectacular fever-pitch finale.


Sitting there in their seats, the Gahdar of Castle Rood were spellbound – especially one in particular. The second the spotlight fell on Jamie, Niklas von Agramon recognized him. Although Jamie looked older and taller than when Nic had seen him last, this was clearly the same boy that years before he’d seen and for whom he'd retrieved the ball while at Compari. Sitting in the semi-darkness of the theater, he couldn’t take his eyes off the young man, a fact that quickly came to the attention of his best friend.


Having met Jamie at the Emperor’s ball, Miro was interested to see what the young dancer could do. Though initially surprised by the boy’s amazing skill, he quickly realized that in an Empire in constant search of beauty, perfection and entertainment, he shouldn’t have expected anything less from La Mondele’s number one performer. Turning to Niklas to gauge his best friend’s reaction, Miro was amazed to see Niklas staring at the dancer with an intensity he’d never seen before.


“A tasty morsel, no?” Miro said, smiling as he poked Niklas in the ribs.


“Shhhhh,” Nic replied, pushing Miro’s arm away.


“I was just...” Miro paused and took a closer look at his best friend. “Oh no, Nic,” Miro whispered. “Don’t tell me you’re...”


“Shhhhh,” Nic repeated.


“Please tell me you’re not falling in love?” Miro said. Receiving no reaction from Nic, Miro looked at the boy on stage then back to his friend. “You have it bad, don’t you?”


“Quiet,” Nic finally replied. “I’m trying to watch the act.”


“That and a few other things,” Miro said softly to himself.


The tempo of the music quickened as the young prince danced with seemingly endless energy and amazing skill. While Miro’s life at court exposed him to much more culture than most of his brother Gahdar, the performance he was now witnessing was different than anything he could remember. It was as if the music itself had entered the young man’s body and like a dark feather driven before an increasingly powerful wind, Jamie and the music became one. It appeared that every movement the boy made was so natural one couldn’t imagine any other possibility.  Miro sat back in his seat and enjoyed the boy’s graceful dance for a few minutes until his Gahdar training in combat, defense, and arena presence connected in a way he’d not considered. Turning from the dancer on the stage to the audience, his eyes scanned the crowd much the way they did when he fought at Rood. Turning back to look at Jamie and then Niklas, a knowing look came to his face.


“I’ll be bloody well sliced with my own sword,” Miro whispered when suddenly the realization dawned on him that while the audience may have thought Jamie was performing for them, he could tell from the dancer’s deliberate movements and constant eye contact with the front row that Jamie’s act was directed at one, and only one, audience member: Nic.


The volume of the music had grown so loud that the very air of the opera house vibrated and its tempo raced along with all the speed of a runaway hov. Riding the music, Jamie’s dance escalated into an incredible aerial ballet that revealed his amazing talent and practiced skill. Jamie flowed in leaps and spins  ever more rapidly across the stage as the dance relentlessly moved to its conclusion. During one loud chord, Jamie gave a quick powerful down stroke to gain more height, and executed a blinding spin so rapid he was transformed into a blur. A sudden and abrupt final down beat from the orchestra brought him to a jarring stop and he threw out his arms to the audience as if ready to embrace them as the last crashing and dissonant chord brought the Redalta to its conclusion.


Still floating above the stage floor, arms outstretched and breathing rapidly, the expression on Jamie’s face was a striking mix of sultry seduction, mischievous playfulness, and daring defiance. Seconds later he slowly floated down to the stage floor as the audience leapt to their feet and applauded wildly, stomping and whistling their approval. While he executed his signature bow, one of the young dancers from the junior troupe walked on stage with the beautiful sun cape and ceremoniously draped it over Jamie’s shoulders. The Kalorian boy, Larrus, had been the first to place the cloak on Jamie’s shoulders the night of Jamie’s unscheduled debut before the Emperor. It had been an unscripted and dramatic moment – one the audience loved. As a reward, the emperor had let Jamie keep it as a gift, and the Impresario was so pleased that he insisted it become part of Jamie’s act. What better way for a real prince to end every performance than to be draped with a royal cape given by none other than the Emperor himself? Rising from his bow, Jamie fastened the clasp of the cape and bowed again as a downpour of flowers rained down, blanketing the apron of the stage.


One large cala rose hit the edge of the stage and bounced back, landing at the feet of the Gahdar in the front row. All of the gladiator boys were applauding wildly, and only Miro watched in curious amazement as Nic bent down, picked up the cala rose, and tossed it onto the stage in a gentle arc that caused it land directly in front of the young dancer. Jamie reached out and plucked the rose from the stage floor as he rose from his bow. Holding the large bloom high above his head he smiled at Nic and bowed again, making no secret that the bow was meant specifically for the handsome young Gahdar who had thrown it. The audience continued to applaud and Jamie took a few more bows before the curtain came down, signaling the end of the act along with the conclusion of the evening’s performance. The applause faded away and crowd quickly abandoned their seats and headed toward the theater’s exits.


“He was incredible,” Gray said, grinning. “I don’t know if it was his moves, his looks or his talent, but I think I’m in love.”


“It was the whole package,” Agrippa replied, and then with sudden insight added, “That, and his complete domination of his environment.”


“Exactly,” Jupiter said nodding his head in agreement.


“You may think you’re in love, Gray, but I know I’m in love with that little dancer,” Tiberius said, putting a hand over his heart.


“More like in lust,” Miro replied with a chuckle and a sly grin.


“That too,” Tiberius added, returning Miro’s grin with a wink and a wicked grin of his own.


The Gahdar were just as much performers as they were warriors, and the best among them knew when they’d seen a commanding performance.


“Reminds me of someone else,” Agrippa said, turning to Niklas and giving him a cheeky grin.


Nic remained silent as he led the troupe of Gahdar from the theater. Walking beside him, Miro couldn’t help but notice the expression on his friend’s face.


“Don’t do it, Nic,” Miro cautioned.


“I’m not doing anything,” Nic said, sounding annoyed. “The performance is over and we’re leaving the theater. I’m going back to the barracks at Rood, and you’re going to the palace."


"That’s not what I mean, and you know it,” Miro replied, patting his friend on the back. “First of all, Nic, he’s a prince. Second, he’s one of the Emperor’s favorites, which means a mate will be chosen for him. And third...” Miro paused to study the growing frown on Nic’s face. “And third,” he forcefully continued, “he has a wicked reputation. He’s performing at and attending parties all across the empire. Who knows how many he’s already been with? Rumor is that it's a lot. You might be a quick roll in the hay for him – the conquest of a Gahdar – but that’s all you’d be. He’s beautiful and talented. After meeting him at the Emperor’s ball, I even think he might be a bit smarter than he usually lets on – which shows a cleverness in itself, but you can’t invest in someone like that.”


Miro watched as the intense, smoldering expression Nic had shown slowly began to fade.


“I guess you’re right,” Nic replied, sounding disheartened.


“I didn’t mean to kill your hopes,” Miro said when he realized his words had made a greater impression on Nic than he’d thought. “Niklas, you’re the premier Gahdar of Rood... of the Empire. How many would do anything to be your mate?”


Nic remained silent as he continued walking toward the exit with Miro by his side.


High up in the theater, sitting unseen in one of the rear rows of the emperor’s box, a young Avionne watched the exit of the Gahdar. Hippolito – now Prince Hippolito thanks to the beneficence of his patron Savaron Loka – had come quietly and unannounced to the opera house.


He'd recently met Prince de Valèn at the Emperor’s ball and couldn’t deny a more than passing interest in the boy. He’d also heard the Archduke speak on a number of occasions about the young dancer he’d acquired from Edmond Croal’s estate at the tip of Isewier. So, when the Prince of Imperialas and his family were preparing to return to the Duchy, Hippolito had requested permission to remain behind for a few days in order to attend one of Jamie’s performances.


With the Emperor and his court making their annual journey to the summer palace in Imperialas, Loka, the Emperor’s principle senior advisor, wanted Hippolito to accompany him, but acquiesced to the young man’s request with the stipulation that the newly named Avionne prince would join his patron as soon as he’d witnessed one of Jamie’s performances and satisfied his curiosity. Having accomplished it, Hippolito rose from his seat and stood looking down into the near empty theater.


Before leaving the box, he walked down the steps until he stood to the right of the imperial throne. Gently placing his hand on the arm of the golden throne-like seat he imagined himself sitting in a similar seat and smiled. At one time such a dream would have been considered an impossible fantasy, but now he was beginning to see how it just might become a reality.


As soon as the curtain fell, a breathless Jamie dashed off the stage. Seconds later, he was standing in the left wing of the stage with his friends crowded around him.


“What do you call that?” Lucas shouted out in amazement as he approached Jamie.


“Seduction by dance,” Yves replied giving Jamie a knowing look.


“How did you ever manage that aerial spin?" Jeremy asked.


“And how soon can you teach it to us?” Lucas eagerly interjected


“It was just a simple dance,” Jamie said flashing his friends an innocent smile, but the sparkle in his eye was pure mischief.


“Don’t give us that,” Yves said. “What you just did was anything but a simple dance. I’ve seen the Redalta,” Yves continued raising an eyebrow and giving Jamie a disbelieving look. “A few Kalorian girls who work on the Cannon Mon Arts danced it for us, and other than the same music, what you just preformed had nothing in common with the Redalta I know.”


“I told you it was my interpretation – changing a female centered dance to a male one,” Jamie interrupted.


“Well it certainly wasn’t the passive come hither dance we saw a group of self-conscious, giggling Kalorian girls perform,” Lucas added.


“Come on,” Jamie began to mildly protest, “I think...”


He immediately stopped speaking and a strange expression came to his face as a searing pain shot through his head – much sharper than the one he’d experienced earlier in his dressing room.


“Oh...” he moaned, suddenly feeling as if a white-hot poker had been thrust between his eyes into his brain. Jamie lowered his head and began to reach up to his forehead. “I think I need to...” But his words faded to silence as a black fog rapidly enveloped him and he crumpled to the floor.


Shocked at the sudden turn of events Lucas, Yves and Jeremy shouted for help. Within seconds members of the stage crew surrounded the fallen boy who appeared to be in the throes of a seizure. At first everyone appeared frozen – not sure what to do.


Then a voice called out, “Take him back to his room.”


It was Castor who’d spoken. The Kalorian rarely accompanied Jamie to the opera house, but tonight had been an exception since Jamie had asked Castor if he would arrange a small birthday party for Jamie and his friends after the evening’s performance.


“But look at him,” Lucas cried. “He needs to go...”


“He needs to be taken to his room,” Castor said in a firm, no nonsense tone that defied anyone to take exception.


“By the Emperor’s beard, look at him,” a terrified Jeremy cried. “He should go to the infirmary.”


“Get him up, immediately,” Castor commanded turning to one of the largest Kalorians on the prop crew while ignoring the boys of Trio Chrysalis.


The muscular man bent down, gently placed his arms under the still seizing boy and carefully lifted Jamie off the floor.


“But Castor,” Yves was now pleading.


“Don’t you think I know what I’m doing?” Castor replied sharply, looking down at Yves. “I would never place him in danger. He’s to be taken back to his room immediately!" Castor barked, sounding more like the Emperor himself than a lowly Kalorian slave. “Quickly, follow me,” he said to the large Kalorian holding Jamie. They’d only advanced a few steps when Castor turned back to the small crowd who’d first gathered around Jamie. “Not a word of this to anyone,” Castor scowled at them, “Understood?”


The fearful nods Castor received assured him that nothing would be said.


“Why aren’t we taking him to the infirmary?” Lucas whispered to Jeremy and Yves as they followed Castor and the Kalorian who was now carrying Jamie.


“I don’t know,” Yves quietly replied.


The three boys – each wearing extremely worried and concerned looks – stayed as close to Jamie as possible. When they reached the dormitory, Castor had the prop hand take the still unconscious boy to Jamie’s room. Once they crossed the threshold, Castor turned to the three boys following him.


“This is as far as you go for now,” Castor said. “I’ll look after him.”


“But...” Lucas protested.


“I’ll watch over him. It only looks frightening. He’ll be ok, he just needs to rest,” Castor added in a gentler voice before he quickly closed the door in their faces.


The boys stood in the hallway staring silently at the closed door that shut them off from their friend. After a few minutes passed the door opened and the large Kalorian who’d carried Jamie to the senior dormitory entered the hall. Lucas, Jeremy and Yves tried to get in a quick look into Jamie’s room, but the man closed the door so quickly they couldn’t see a thing.


“Well?” Lucas angrily shouted at the man.


Without replying the muscular Kalorian looked down at the boys, then simply shrugged and walked down the hall leaving Jamie’s three friends standing in front of the door to his room. For the first thirty minutes Jeremy, Lucas and Yves stood arguing as to how they could get into the room. During that time Giovanni appeared with a basin of cold water and towels. Knocking softly on the door he patiently waited. It opened a crack and as soon as Castor saw who it was Giovanni was granted entrance. Less then a minute later the door opened and Giovanni was leaving the room.


“What’s going on in there?” Lucas demanded, planting himself directly in front of Giovanni.


“Nothing,” Giovanni replied.


“Nothing? What do you mean, nothing?” Lucas shouted.


“I mean nothing,” Giovanni answered defensively, giving Jamie’s three friends a frightened look. “He’s lying on his bed. Castor told me to put the basin and towels down, then he took one, soaked it in the cold water and put it on Jamie’s head. After that he thanked me and told me to leave.”


“Is he awake?” Yves asked anxiously.


“It didn’t look like it,” Giovanni said. “That’s all I know, really.”


“Sorry,” Lucas said. “I didn’t mean to yell at you. We’re just...”


“Worried,” Jeremy interjected.


“I know,” Giovanni added. “So am I. A Kalorian from the theater came downstairs looking for me, he told me what happened and that Castor wanted me to bring towels and a basin of cold water.”


“I really am sorry,” Lucas said again.


“It’s ok,” Giovanni said folding his wings back as he leaned up against the wall outside Jamie’s room with Jeremy, Lucas and Yves. “If it’s alright, I think I’ll stay.”


“You can stay,” Jeremy said. “With Jamie’s own brother so far away, I think he often looks upon you as something of a little brother..."


“Jeremy!” Yves snapped, “Shut your mouth!”


“Jamie has a younger brother?” Giovanni instantly picked up on Jeremy’s slip-up, his voice rising in shocked surprise at the revelation.


“Just forget about it,” Jeremy frowned turning his back on Giovanni and silently cursing at his blatant stupidity.


“It’s a bit too late for that,” Yves said giving Jeremy an angry scowl. “Jamie trusted us and look what you’ve done. You’re such a bonehead, Jeremy.”


“I didn’t mean to say it. You heard how it happened. It just slipped out. I wasn’t thinking.”


“As usual,” Lucas said.


“Giovanni, we really can’t explain,” Yves said, walking over to the boy and putting his hand on Giovanni’s shoulder as his voice fell to s soft whisper. “It would be really bad if anyone found out. You’ve accidentally discovered something that very, very few know about. We can’t change that. But we’re not going to talk about it any more or answer any questions,” Yves added throwing sharp and accusatory glance at Jeremy. “So please don’t ask us, and please don’t say anything to anyone? Ok?”


Giovanni, surprised almost as much at Yves' and Lucas' harsh reaction to Jeremy as he was at finding out that Jamie had a younger brother, nodded his head in agreement.


“It would be very bad for Jamie if anyone found out,” Yves repeated.


“I won’t say anything to anyone, I promise,” Giovanni said. And it was true. The boy adored Jamie. Growing up alone and isolated for most of his young life, Giovanni eventually was sent to Expedition and Service and then had unexpectedly been assigned as a slave to the Canon of the Arts. And although Jamie always protested when the younger boy brought it up, Giovanni insisted that Jamie had saved his life; Giovanni had, in that moment, conceived an unbreakable bond of love and loyalty to the boy he considered his savior. If his silence protected Jamie, then Giovanni would be silent and nothing would or could make him break his promise.


After Jeremy’s untimely revelation, the next sixty minutes were spent with the boys leaning up against the walls, pacing up and down the length of the corridor, or putting their ears to Jamie’s door in an attempt to hear anything that might give them a clue as to what was happening on the other side. During that time Yves intercepted Cristophe, who’d come back from an errand to the impresario’s office, and relayed all they knew to the master prefect.


The second hour was spent with the boys discussing and speculating what might have happened to their friend. At the end of two hours the door opened and Castor stepped into the hallway. Jumping in front of him all three boys tried to look past the kalorian so they could get a glimpse of Jamie, but Castor was too quick for them and immediately shut the door.


“You can wait here as long as you want,” Castor said surveying the five worried boys, “but you must let him rest.”


“But what’s happening?” Cristophe asked.


“It’s complex,” Castor replied. “He’s fine, I promise. I think I know what’s happening to him. If he were in any danger I’d see to it that he receive immediate assistance. He just needs to rest. Can I count on all of you to follow my instructions, or will I need to place a guard outside the door?”


“It won’t be necessary,” Cristophe answered as his eyes surveyed the remaining four boys. “We’ll follow your wishes.”


“But we want to see him as soon as he’s ok,” Lucas added.


“Of course,” Castor said, turning from the group and opening the door to Jamie’s room. “Giovanni, to me,” Castor commanded. Giovanni immediately went to Castor. “Wait right here,” Castor continued, “I’m going to give you the basin. Please return with a fresh one, and this time have them put some ice into the water. I’ll also need more clean towels.”


Entering Jamie’s room, Castor returned with wet towels and the basin, after handing them to Giovanni the kalorian stepped back into Jamie’s room and closed the door.


From the time he’d been carried back to his room, Jamie remained unconscious. The seizures had stopped, but he was running a high fever. Castor returned to the stool next to Jamie’s bed that he’d occupied for most of the time since Jamie had been brought to his room, and looked down at the boy, carefully studying Jamie for any changes. Gods, so pale and small and still in the bed...his own heart had nearly burst with pride as he'd watched Jamie dance the Redalta as he'd never seen it danced before, and now look at him.


Castor had removed Jamie’s clothes soon after he’d first been placed on his bed, and immediately applied the cool towels to both Jamie’s forehead and the rest of his body. Then taking a small hand fan, he opened it and fanned Jamie while he waited. Castor had a vague idea of what might be happening, and that was only because of a casual remark Croal had made to the kalorian years before. In the moments after Jamie succumbed, the fact that it was the boy’s fifteenth birthday and the end of his Icarian puberty cycle triggered the long forgotten memory, and Castor was glad that for once he’d accompanied Jamie to the opera house.


As late evening turned to night, Cristophe convinced everyone to go to bed after he promised the boys that he would let them know when Jamie regained consciousness. In the meantime, Castor kept to his bedside vigil.


Morning came and Jamie’s condition remained unchanged. By the beginning of the second evening, Castor was growing more concerned. If Jamie remained unconscious by morning, Castor decided that he’d have to get assistance – but from whom, and for what he had no idea.


In the wee hours of the early morning, an exhausted Castor noticed Jamie’s fever had broken and that the boy appeared to be resting more comfortably. After a few minutes spent carefully studying his charge, Castor left and went to the school’s kitchen, to order some food in case Jamie regained consciousness. He also would get some much-needed coffee for himself.


Dawn came and with it sunlight, edging slowly into the room. As his room grew brighter, Jamie began to stir. Slowly he opened his eyes. Waking in stages as if coming out of hibernation, Jamie realized he was lying on his back and staring at the ceiling. Feeling more disoriented than he usually did when awakening, he became aware of something cold and clammy on his head. Reaching up, he found a damp cloth on his forehead. Pulling it off, he let it fall on the floor. Shifting his wings and carefully sitting up on his elbows he looked around his room, as if seeing it for the first time.


A quick glance at his body revealed that he was completely naked. It was something that surprised him since he always went to bed wearing sleep shorts. Strangely, he wasn’t even under a blanket or the sheets of his bed, but lying on top of them. It was then that he became acutely aware of the dull continuous thud coming from inside his head – it seemed to match the beating of his heart.


His mouth was terribly dry – as if he’d been chewing on a piece of wool. At one of the first parties he’d ever been invited after becoming one of the premier performers of La Mondele, he’d become sick after drinking too much wine – it was one of the reasons he rarely drank. Right now he felt the same way he had that morning months before, yet he knew he hadn’t been drinking – had he?


Piecing together threads of his last conscious memories he swung his legs around, folded back his wings, and moved to sit up on the edge of his bed. The instant his feet hit the cool floor, the pain in his head grew in intensity and he immediately went from an upright sitting position to one that had him slouching over; his elbows on his knees while his hands reflexively propped up his aching head. The bright light that streamed into the room hurt his eyes and appeared to exacerbate the pain so he closed them as he sat quietly and cradled his throbbing head.


Although his eyes were closed he could still see tiny flashes of light. At first he thought it was the morning sunlight, but after a few minutes he realized the flashing was coming from behind his own eyelids. Groaning slightly he opened his eyes and raised his head and although he was still in pain that fact began to move into the background as feelings of confusion and puzzlement began to bloom within his conscious mind.


The bright sunlight still hurt his eyes as he gazed across his room, but it was the bright flashes of color and light at the very periphery of his vision that were beginning to worry him. Much like floaters in his field of vision, every time Jamie tried to look directly at the flashes they darted away to the new periphery of his refocused gaze. As his futile exercise continued, the flashes grew more frequent in duration while their colors grew in brightness, hue, and intensity.


It wasn’t long before the flashes moved from Jamie’s peripheral vision directly into his line of sight and it seemed like he was staring at a brightly colored pulsating strobe.


Closing his eyes tightly to block out the light, he was surprised to see that it was just as bright and clear as when his eyes were open.


What’s happening? He thought, growing even more worried.


When he opened his eyes for a second time an explosion of color – much like a burst of fireworks – blinded him.


I’m hallucinating.


Still rubbing his forehead and eyes, the colorful explosions continued. Another minute passed and the bursts began to focus and diminish in intensity, much like a blurred image begins to grow clear under a lens and Jamie was immediately reminded of using one of the microscopes in his father’s lab to focus on an object. The coalescence of colors and light continued until he began to see images. At first it looked like he was standing amidst a flock of birds, but the birds were actually hundreds of numbers flying before his eyes.


Now I know I’m hallucinating, but why?


The numbers vanished and he found himself staring at a bright light. This time there were no colors, and he had the impression that he was staring directly into the core of a white-hot sun. The only difference was that even if he closed his eyes he still saw the light. Slowly the light began to diminish. As it did an image began to form, although by now he wasn’t sure if it was actually appearing before him like some type of projection or if it was all simply occurring directly in his mind.


The coalescence of the image continued and Jamie began to realize that it was the face of a person. The focus continued to slowly grow sharper and then as he was trying hard to concentrate in one split second the image jumped into perfect focus, and Jamie found himself staring into the eyes of his father, Edmond Croal.


“Father...” Jamie began to speak so stunned at what he was seeing that he forgot he was simply staring at an image of his father and not the real Edmond Croal. The Edmond Croal in the image ignored Jamie and began to speak, but Jamie couldn’t be completely sure if the voice was coming from the image or if it was simply sounds resonating in his head.


Jamie Edmond Croal began, if you’re able to see me it means that you’ve reached your fifteenth birthday, and your puberty cycle has ended. It also means you’ve survived any number of things I can’t begin to imagine. What you’re experiencing now is one of the effects of the virus I infected you with years ago.


Jamie winced mostly out of surprise at seeing his father, but partly because of his memory of the deliberate viral infection Croal had exposed him to.


There were many ways at my disposal to leave you a message, but I chose the one I thought would be the safest and the most undetectable. The virus was engineered to be extremely slow growing and for the past three years as its been multiplying and attaching itself to various parts of your neurological system. The virus also produces a toxin that has neurological effects. Years ago I told you that the infection was not just one virus, but twelve different strains of the same virus. All of them can function independently or in combination with each other, as do their toxins. The cells of your body were engineered to accept both the virus and its toxin. It’s not infectious and no matter how much anyone else comes in contact with you, it will have no effect on them no matter if they are human, Kalorian or Icarian.


As he presented his explanation, Edmond Croal remained calm and impassive, just as Jamie always remembered his father to be – in fact Jamie would have been surprised if Croal had acted any other way. Direct and to the point, his scientist father never sugarcoated the truth, nor made any attempt to soften his message.


Your older brother Loran was also made to accept the virus, but he is different from you – a difference that goes all the way to the cellular level. When he was first created an injection of the virus was impossible. It had to be manufactured in a different form for his body to accept. You can also accept the virus in the same way, but it should be unnecessary since you already have it in you. There were questions at the time if you would need additional doses as a boost, but I always argued against it and all my research shows that I am correct. Your brother Charlie is also different from both you and Loran. Charlie never required an infection, or injection. His body naturally manufactures a form of the toxin quite different from any in your system.


As Croal continued to talk it seemed to Jamie that somehow his father had stepped out of Jamie’s mind and was standing directly before of him.


Another side effect of the virus is the generation of new neurons within your brain, neurons that as they are created align themselves in a pattern we developed in the laboratory at Villa Mare Vista. It’s a technology the scientists at Gold Glass aren’t familiar with. If, during the imperial attack on the villa, we succeeded and destroyed all the evidence of our work, they will never discover it no matter how closely they examine you.


Jamie shuddered at his father’s words as an image of him lying on an examination table, flayed open and dissected into ever-smaller pieces flashed through his mind.


The new aligned neurons create, in effect, a comp within your brain. Do you remember the mental exercises I had you repeat over and over when I was teaching you privately in my office? You must begin them once more and continue them rigorously.


“What, you put a machine... a comp in my brain?” Jamie spoke to the image in disbelief.


As if his father had heard him, Croal continued.


What you have is as natural to your body as your eyes, your skin, or the hairs on your head. It’s completely organic and a part of you – it is you, Jamie, not some alien thing. It’s what allowed you to access the net when you were still at the villa. Although you often snuck into the lab to your informatics station late at night, I monitored your progress. Your early succesess were proof of my achievements.


Croal almost beamed as he spoke of the success of his experiment.


But that was only the beginning of what you will be able to do. I’m sure that over time your abilities to access the net have improved, but now the next step will begin. Officially we called what you’re now experiencing the Whole-brain Neurological Enhancement Device, but one of my students began calling it The Screen and the name stuck. You will be able to access it either in your mind or outside of your mind – much like viewing an informatics screen sitting before you.


In time others will be able to view it, but only if you allow them. As in the past you will continue to be able to access the net, but now you can use it as a storage device and ready library of information. I was able to subliminally program some basic information into it during our sessions. I never had time to implant as much as I would have liked, but you can continue the process.


Jamie sat quietly on the edge of his bed, listening to his father with rapt attention.


The Screen is a way for you to store information, to access facts, and to build a library. You can download into The Screen from the net just like any informatics station can. Its capacity, while not infinite, is vast. You must keep in mind, though, that it is only a tool. It will not improve or speed your intelligence. It is more of a database then anything else. You may learn to do more with it, but that will be up to you. Since it is a part of you, it will adapt to you in a unique way and you may be able to program it, but it will not make you omniscient, invincible or immortal. If you use it with that in mind, you will use it correctly; otherwise it will be as useless as any informatics station crammed with insignificant random data.


You will also have to think carefully about how you will file and access the information. All of that has been included in the basic initiation procedure, which you must begin. Although you now see me, you are experiencing a subroutine written and stored in The Screen that was timed for release when the final neural connections were complete – on or around your fifteenth birthday. I’m sorry if the experience was uncomfortable, we worked hard to make it as painless as possible. Initial tests resulted in the death of many lab animals as we perfected it, but we could never make it completely painless.


In time its quite possible that you won’t even need the normal links provided, such as informatics stations, to connect with the net. My hopes are that you will eventually be able to free yourself from it and that The Screen will function for you just like any informatics station.


As his father spoke Jamie rubbed his forehead and while he still had a headache he was grateful he hadn’t met the fate of the experimental subjects.


When this message is finished I will give you the initial pass code which you will be allowed to change, but before I do, listen carefully to what I’m about to tell you for once I am finished this message will be deleted and become irretrievable.


Jamie sat up, his headache long forgotten, and directed his full attention to his father’s image.


                There is much you already know from our sessions, but there wasn’t time to give you everything, and even if there had been, you were still too young to fully understand. You and Charlie both know you are princes – direct genetic descendents of The Founder himself. And you, Jamie, know what is expected of you.


Now, my son, is the time for you to begin your journey, that which we talked about long ago. And also to help Charlie when the time comes. You have passed through puberty and are nearly eighteen commonwealth standard. It is an age you share with more then a few others throughout history who led armies that conquered worlds and created empires, or started rebellions that sometimes wildly succeeded.


                “But how Father?” Jamie called out to Edmond Croal. “How can I hope to do this?”


                Croal’s monologue continued.


                Only you can discover how to succeed. I could have given you countless plans developed by many in the resistance, but by now over three years have passed since I recorded this. One can only guess the chess pieces that have been realigned during that time. If one throws in the progress of the plague, it would have been foolish to create a strategy for you to follow.


The mark of a true leader is leadership itself along with the ability to create plans, develop strategy, and be flexible when the unexpected occurs, or plans don’t succeed as hoped for. You have the tools for that leadership. It’s in the very cells of your body. You’re every bit the de Valèn, your ancestor Jacques was – if anything, son, you are much more.


Jamie felt goose bumps rise on his skin when he thought about his ties with Jacques de Valèn.


Now it's up to you Jamie. Only you can discover the way – a way that’s unique to you. You will gather help along the way, of that I have no doubt. Just as The Founder was able to inspire those around him, so too do you have that same ability – a charisma to lead and the will to strive for change. Plan carefully. Choose wisely. You are quick and decisive, but also impulsive. Use your skills to your advantage, and don’t give in to your impulsiveness and temper – they are also emotions that make you what you are, but you must learn to control them.


                Croal paused for a few seconds then cast such a strong gaze at his son, Jamie suddenly felt as if his father were alive and looking directly into his eyes.


                Remember your promise to me about keeping Charlie safe. It will take both of you working together. I wish I could have included Loran, but he was taken away from me a long time ago. Now it is time to say goodbye. Although I am gone, my love for you and your brother continues.


                “I love you too Father,” Jamie said softly to the unfeeling projection.


                One last thing, Croal said. Go to the Monastery of Infinity, read the runes. They will tell you much. You may never live to see what they promise, but you must be ready – if not yourself, then at least your descendents.


                “He knew,” Jamie said speaking softly to himself, “You knew, Father. didn’t you? But...”


                Edmond Croal shifted his position and his face became an inscrutable mask.


                Prepare for pass code transmission.


                Jamie blinked, but then smiled at the sudden change. No one but his father could profess his love for his son, and then coldly shift to business, as if the warm loving words had never been spoken.


                “Ready, Father,” Jamie said softly.


                Croal gave the pass code and instantly the image vanished.


                Jamie spoke the code, but nothing happened. Closing his eyes he began to concentrate the same way he did when accessing the net. In his mind he thought the pass code, there was a flicker his eyes picked up on and The Screen came to life. Concentrating on the instructions his father created for him Jamie quickly learned the simple rudiments of the device – if that’s what it was. He smiled to himself when he entered the new pass code he’d decided on.


When Castor returned he was overjoyed to see Jamie awake, apparently unhurt and unharmed. After making sure the boy was fine, Castor suggested Jamie relax in a warm bath. Still tired and sore and with a lingering headache, Jamie agreed without protest. When he returned from his bath, he was greeted by his friends – overjoyed at his recovery – along with a large plate of food Castor ordered up from the kitchen. Although his friends had many questions, Jamie was guarded in his responses as he ate.


That night while preparing for bed Castor entered his room to check on him and although Jamie hadn’t been prepared to say anything, a few knowing words from the old Kalorian convinced Jamie that Castor was at least peripherally aware of what had occurred, and so he confided in him. Castor asked Jamie a few basic questions that the boy answered to the best of his ability, but the kalorian refrained from pressing Jamie too hard on the details. As Jamie crawled into bed, Castor turned out the light and left Jamie’s room. Closing the door behind him, Castor stood in the silent hallway for a few seconds. The time was drawing close for action. Remembering his own promises Castor walked slowly to his room, knowing that the coming day would be the heralding of a new dawn of hope.


                In the days that followed, Jamie quickly learned to master The Screen, and although he accepted his father’s explanation that it was an organic part of his own body, Jamie nevertheless thought of it as a device. He already was something of a virtuoso with informatics stations, so the transition hadn’t been too difficult. Edmond Croal had designed the device specifically for him and Jamie adapted to it well.


But The Screen was much more, and even during his early use of it Jamie could see its vast potential. While Croal had lamented that he hadn’t been able store all the information he’d wanted to include for Jamie’s use, Jamie was still amazed at the incredible font of data he already had access to. Over time he began to catalogue and store it in his own fashion using mathematical constructs based on prime numbers. It was a way he could store the information in both an orderly and safe manner.


One day a thought came to him and he quickly accessed The Screen for more information. After a few moments of study a smile came to his face. As he’d accumulated more and more data, he’d been thinking of a back-up plan if somehow his memory or the device failed him, or if he needed to supply access to someone else, like Charlie. His investigation led him to the official Imperial publishing office. He already knew that while all of the empire's data was stored electronically, it was also available in print. Laws, regulations, imperial decrees, speeches, and other documents were also stored for reference in the many imperial libraries, created for the use of the courts and governmental agencies of the empire.


Quickly he began to prepare a document of his own. After a few days of pondering how to begin, he got a flash of insight and began to create a code. Anyone seeing it would simply see page after page of prime numbers, but for him it would be the master key. Over time he’d continue to add too it and when he was ready, he’d secretly send the file to the imperial printing offices. He only needed one book, and after it was printed the file would automatically be expunged.


He set up a program so that by using a simple thought command he could immediately upload the information. The parameters supplied by the printing office were simple and direct and he easily set them to his specifications. When the program asked him where the book should be stored Jamie paused, not sure what to do. After a minute of thought he recalled his father’s admonition of hiding things right in front of your enemies eyes, then remembering Cristophe’s stories about the vast library at the imperial academy, a grin came to Jamie’s face. Boldly he chose the grand library at Eagle’s Rock as the book’s final storage destination. The thin volume would arrive at the academy with as many as a few hundred other books. Since Jamie had already taken care of the catalogue information it would simply be stored – one more book in a sea of millions – forgotten, and unread. Given the choice to immediately send or hold the publication, Jamie put it on hold and programmed a hot key so that it could be instantly sent at his command. Until that day he would continue to update and refine the information it would contain.