Read freakling epub format

Authors: Lana Krumwiede

freakling

The first time Taemon’s brother tried to kill him was the night Uncle Fierre came over with his unisphere.

Mam was cooking sweet tubers and onions for dinner that night. Taemon caught a whiff of the rich aroma as he walked into the kitchen. A purple onion floated above the pot. After shedding its papery outer layers, it diced itself perfectly and fell into the stew. A sweet tuber peeled itself as neat slices dropped into the pot, its ruddy skin landing in the garbage. Tiny silvery leaves of an herb separated from their stems and joined the mixture. On the opposite side of the kitchen, dough kneaded itself on the countertop, folding and flattening, folding and flattening.

Taemon marveled at how easily his mother used psi. He’d seen her cook a million times and never thought much of it. Now that he was twelve years old, finally learning to do real work with psi, he understood how much skill it took to do several things at once. Mam might not always show it, but her psi was plenty powerful.

When Taemon was very young, he hadn’t even realized there was such a thing as psi. After dinner, the dishes would float to the kitchen and hover over the garbage pail. There they paused while the mess and food bits flung themselves into the pail. Then the perfectly clean dishes would drift into their places in the cupboard. Other things were like that, too. Doors knew when to open, water flowed from the faucet when needed, quadriders drove people from place to place.

One day when he was about three years old, Taemon realized dishes didn’t wash themselves. Someone was using psi to tell the dishes and the doors and the quadriders what to do. You couldn’t see it, you couldn’t hear it, but when an object moved, someone nearby was doing it with psi. Da said even the Earth had her psi. She used it to fetch rain from the clouds and rouse the seeds in spring.

His mother’s voice interrupted Taemon’s thoughts. “Fierre will be here soon.”

“Good,” he said, although he wasn’t sure of that. Uncle Fierre and Da clashed when it came to politics. And Uncle Fierre was spending the summer solstice holiday with them. Tomorrow they would all drive out to the coast. Taemon hoped Da would keep the arguing to a minimum.

Taemon sat down on a stool next to the countertop where the dough was dividing itself into little pasty blobs. Watching the dough form itself into balls around pinches of spicy pork filling, Taemon decided he could put up with a fair amount of arguing if it meant pork balls for dinner.

His belly rumbled. Using psi, he lifted an apple from the basket on the counter. It hovered in front of him. He pictured clearly in his mind a large chunk of apple separating itself and drifting into his mouth. He held the image in his head for a split second and reached out with his mind toward the apple.
Be it so!

And it happened just as he had pictured. Taemon opened his mouth and let the fruit chunk float in. His jaw tightened with its tartness.

“Not such big bites,” Mam said.

How did she know? She had her back turned, looking out the window. Probably watching for Uncle Fierre.

Taemon directed another bite, only a tad smaller, from the apple toward his mouth. Using psi wasn’t that hard, once you got used to it. You had to be able to picture it exactly in your mind, which meant you had to have some knowledge of the thing you were doing. Breaking off a piece of apple was simple. Other things were more complicated, like driving a quadrider. His brother Yens was sixteen and had gotten his license just last month, though Mam and Da rarely let him use their quadrider. Not till he’d learned to be more cautious, Mam said.

A thunderous roar ripped into the quiet afternoon. Taemon lost his concentration and the next apple chunk plopped on the counter. The pork balls dropped to the counter too, but Mam had let them down gently. The noise came from down the street.

“What in the Great Green Earth?” Mam craned her neck to get a wider view from the window.

Taemon walked over to Mam to take a look. He saw a byrider speeding down the street. No, not a byrider. It was one of those new unispheres. Instead of two wheels, it had one big ball that pivoted and swiveled like the tip of an old-world ballpoint pen that Taemon had seen once at the museum. The rumble paused as the unisphere changed gears, then the throaty growl broke out again.

Could anything be more thoroughly cool?

Mam sighed. “They never should have made those things legal.” She turned back to her pork balls, and they began dipping themselves into the boiling broth.

Taemon leaned forward and squinted. “It’s Uncle Fierre.”

Once again the pork balls were abandoned as Mam turned her attention to the approaching unisphere. She huffed. “What is Fierre doing with one of those monstrosities? He’s forty-six years old, for Sky’s sake.”

Uncle Fierre, a unisphere, and pork balls. Tonight ought to be interesting.

Taemon leaned back in his chair and waited for dessert. He had already eaten two bowls of sweet tuber stew and nine pork balls. If he ate any more, he would burst before the nut cake was served. As usual, the adults were taking forever to eat. They were too busy talking.

“The Emerald team has a real shot at the gold cup this year,” Yens said. “Did you see the match last week?”

“I saw Kantall sink a few lucky shots,” Uncle Fierre said. “But they’ll have to be more consistent. He’s too easy to predict.”

Yens was the school’s star athlete, and Uncle Fierre took it upon himself to give his nephew a few psiball pointers, seeing as Da had no interest in sports. Da saw the game as a fine way to teach youngsters psionic skill but not a proper pursuit for grown men and women.

As the psiball discussion continued, Taemon watched Da carefully to see if he would rise to the bait. So far, his father seemed to be showing restraint.

“I’m pretty sure I’ll be elected captain of the team this year,” Yens boasted, “which will help my chances when the high priest decides to choose the True Son.”

Uncle Fierre nodded. “Couldn’t hurt.”

“It’s not for the high priest to decide who the True Son is!” Da slammed down his mug with psi. “The Heart of the Earth will decide.”

Uncle Fierre frowned, lifted his napkin with psi, and dabbed at the corners of his mouth. “That’s not what the priests are saying. They’re working on selecting the True Son. It could very well be someone from our own family.” Uncle Fierre fixed his gaze squarely on Yens.

Yens beamed.

Taemon used psi to make spiral patterns in the grease spots left on his plate. Could Uncle Fierre be right? Would the high priest choose Yens? After all, Mam was a descendant of the prophet Nathan, and that’s the line the True Son was supposed to come from. And Yens’s birth sign was Knife, which was the only other thing the scriptures specified.

“Have another pork ball, Fierre, and stop putting foolishness into Yens’s head,” Mam said softly. “We’ve waited two centuries for the True Son, and we may well wait two more.”

“We’ll know soon enough. They’re going to announce the date of the next cycle sometime in the coming weeks.” Uncle Fierre used psi to float three more pork balls to his plate. Taemon sat back in his chair. At this rate, he might be eating nut cake for tomorrow’s breakfast.

“The Heart of the Earth will choose,” Da said. “Not you, not I, and not the high priest.”

“It’s the same thing,” Uncle Fierre said. “The high priest speaks for the Heart of the Earth.”

Da frowned. “In theory.”

“Stop right there.” Uncle Fierre held his hand up, palm outward. “I sincerely hope you’re not voicing these opinions in public, Wiljamen.” He locked eyes with Da, a prickly silence growing between them.

Taemon lowered his head and stealthily glanced from face to face. Mam fidgeted with the edge of the tablecloth.

Yens plunged into the argument again. “He’s right, Da. You of all people should accept the priests’ authority.”

Taemon watched Da press his mouth into a line and take a deep breath. Da was a religion teacher, the one who imparted the teachings of the prophet Nathan to schoolchildren. He and Yens often argued about the appropriate uses of psi. Da clung to the traditional rules that safeguarded the use of psi, while Yens followed the popular ideas that pushed its limits. They were always at odds, Yens and Da; even their birth signs were opposite. Yens, the Knife, causing division and strife. Da, on the other hand, was Stone, firm and unyielding. No wonder the sparks flew between them like flint and steel. Now would be a good time for Mam to bring in that nut cake.

“What do you think, Taemon?” Da asked. “Do the priests follow the Heart of the Earth?”

Taemon froze. This was a new element in the argument. Did Da seriously expect him to answer? How was he supposed to know why the priests did what they did? He should stay out of this. Say something neutral that wouldn’t make anyone mad. He coughed to stall for time.

Da sighed and continued without Taemon’s answer. “Psi is a gift from the Heart of the Earth,” he said, measuring his words with exaggerated patience. “A person unites with the Earth’s spirit, and if his heart is pure, his will becomes one with the will of the Earth. Psi was meant to accomplish that which is good for humankind. Not selfish gain. Not idle amusement. If Elder Naseph is planning on choosing the True Son himself and dictating the start of the New Cycle, then I’m telling you he is acting outside his authority.”

Uncle Fierre gasped. “You go too far, Wiljamen! That’s blasphemy. What possible reason could the high priest have for going against the will of the Earth?”

Taemon was just as curious as Uncle Fierre to know the answer to that question. But before Da could respond, Mam, ever the peacemaker, spoke up.

“Why don’t you boys have a look at the unisphere?” she said. “I’ll call you when it’s time for dessert. Is that all right, Fierre?”

“Sure,” Uncle Fierre said, obviously grateful for the distraction. “You can even sit on it if you like.”

“Is it safe?” Mam asked.

He nodded. “It’s stable enough with the emergency brake in place.”

Yens was instantly out of his seat, heading for the back door, which was already opening with the help of psi. Taemon followed.

Uncle Fierre called out after them: “But you don’t have permission to start it.”

Yens reached the unisphere first and planted himself on the seat. “Ever seen one of these up close?” he asked.

Taemon shook his head.

“I have.” Yens leaned forward and squeezed the hand grips. “Andon’s brother has one. He showed us how it works.”

Taemon took a moment to admire the machine.

The tire, if it was even called a tire, was a big black rubber ball with a tread that was patterned after alligator skin. The tire-ball had a cap on top, like an upside-down bowl that covered more than half the ball. The sun gleamed off the shiny chrome of the cap, except for where an alligator symbol was etched in black on the sides. The fierce emblem made the unisphere look dangerous even when it sat in the driveway. On top of the chrome cap was a black leather seat that had a slight curve to it.

But where was the engine?

Even a unisphere had to have an engine of some kind. You couldn’t just roll the ball forward. It wouldn’t go very fast, not unless you exerted a lot of psi. And you’d get tired in a minute or two, just like with running. Psi engines didn’t need fuel like in the old days, but there had to be gears and cams and springs to transfer the energy so a person didn’t have to exert himself so much. There had to be an engine somewhere on this thing.

Taemon frowned. Usually he could figure out the general idea behind a machine, even if he didn’t know enough details to operate it. But this unisphere had him stumped.

Of course, that was the whole point of psi. You had to know how something worked. You had to picture in your mind exactly what the machine looked like, parts and all, and then tell those parts what to do. If you didn’t know clearly and precisely how something was to be done, you couldn’t use psi to do it.

The more he stared at the unisphere, the more Taemon had to know how it worked. He was tempted to do something he hadn’t done since he was a little kid. He was tempted to let his mind wander.

When Taemon first learned to use psi, he used to send out a small tendril of his mind to explore the world, like an ant scouting things out. It wasn’t quite the same as using psi, because it could only explore, not move or change anything. But Da had made it clear that mind wandering was bad. Never to be done, never to be spoken of. He had been strict about it, so much so that Taemon had never told anyone else about it, not even Mam or Yens. Now that Taemon was older, he had figured out why. It was different. And different was suspicious. And suspicious was dangerous.

So Taemon stood there staring at the unisphere, wishing he knew where the engine was and how the crazy thing worked. If he used his mind wandering, he could figure it out. As long as he never acted on that knowledge, no one would ever know.

And that was the whole point, right? No one should ever know.

Taemon closed his eyes and let his awareness drift across the hard, rough concrete that was the driveway. Along the ridges and patterns of the unisphere’s ball tire. Skimming the smooth surface of the chrome. He let his mind wander under the seat, where Yens sat tall and proud, as though he owned the thing. No engine there. Just thick padding and springs for shock absorption. He sent his mind lower, exploring the underside of the chrome cap. He could see it all in his head. Nothing there. He went deeper, inside the ball itself.

So there you are,
thought Taemon.

Such a clever engine it was, too! Springs coiled tightly so the driver could release the energy as fast or slowly as needed. Tread on the inside of the tire as well, which fit perfectly with the cam. Only this was more complicated because —

“Hoy, freakling,” Yens said sharply. “You getting on or not?”

Taemon nodded and scrambled up behind Yens. The seat was made for one, but they were both skinny and the inward curve of the seat kept them pressed together.

“Bet I could drive this thing,” Yens said.

“We don’t have permission.”

That was the great safeguard of psi. You couldn’t do anything that was outside of your authority. If you tried it, the internal conflict inside you blocked psi. So it was pretty much impossible to use psi to do anything that went against your conscience even in the slightest.

“So?” Yens said.

A bad feeling was growing in the pit of Taemon’s stomach. What was Yens planning to do?

“He said we didn’t have permission to start it. He didn’t say we couldn’t release the emergency brake.” Yens’s voice was quiet and frightening.

“Why?” Taemon asked. “So we can roll down the driveway and fall over? That would just be stupid.”

Instantly Taemon regretted the last part of that comment. He had probably just multiplied Yens’s determination to do whatever insane thing he had in mind.

“I’m getting off,” Taemon said. He tried to swing his leg over the seat, but Yens leaned back, pinning Taemon in place.

“Not yet,” Yens said. He reached down with his left hand and released the brake. Immediately they began to roll backward.

Taemon gasped. He pulled his legs up as high as he could. When they fell over, he’d prefer not to get crushed between the ball and the ground.

But they didn’t fall over. They kept rolling. Yens must have been using psi to balance the seat above the ball.

Now they were past the driveway and into the street. Yens couldn’t start the engine without permission. So they were just going to roll the whole time? Taemon began to relax. Their street didn’t have much of a slope. They wouldn’t get far.

“Now comes the fun part,” Yens said.

The bad feeling in Taemon’s stomach was back in an instant. A quadrider was coming toward them on the street, and Yens seemed to be steering toward it.

“Uh, Yens?” Taemon tried not to sound terrified. “Shouldn’t we try to avoid the quadrider?” His voice cracked.

Yens laughed and stayed his course. “That’s the ticket, Tae. Put your life on the line, and you can do anything you want with psi.”

Life on the line? Holy Mother Mountain!

The quadrider honked frantically. There was no room for it to pass — not with the unisphere in the middle of the street.

“Yens!” Taemon cried.

Just then, Taemon felt the engine starting up underneath him. The unisphere jerked and whined. Suddenly Taemon realized what Yens had done. In urgent danger, the survival instinct sometimes became stronger than a person’s conscience and psi could be used if the person kept a calm head.

Sometimes.

They picked up speed. The unisphere sputtered. Lurched. Wobbled. This is exactly why psi was such a tricky thing. Authority, knowledge, state of mind — all of these played against each other and you could mess things up if you didn’t stick to what you absolutely knew you could do.

Yens was losing control.

The quadrider honked again, mere feet away from them.

Before Taemon knew what was happening, Yens launched himself from the unisphere and tumbled into the grass at the side of the road.

Taemon wobbled, but even as he did so, he could feel his psi taking over. Once he made the decision to stay on the seat, all anxiety left him. His mind was clear and calm.

He knew how to drive the unisphere.

In one complete image, he pictured it in his head. The spring releasing the stored energy. The gears moving forward in a burst of speed. The steering mechanism pulling hard to the left. The seat staying balanced above the ball. It all came to his mind precisely and instantly. He gathered his psi and directed it toward the unisphere.
Be it so!

Taemon hung on as he rocketed forward off the road and onto the grass, missing the quadrider by inches. He righted his course, then bounced back onto the road, flinging dry pine needles behind him.

He exhaled slowly. It wouldn’t do to crash now. He had to stay calm a little longer.

He drove around the block and willed himself to be at peace.

The wind had smeared purple and gray across the twilit sky.

A squirrel bounded across the road.

The crickets began their song of darkness.

And Taemon parked Uncle Fierre’s unisphere in the driveway.

Once he put the emergency brake on and withdrew his psi, the fear came back in a rush. He had come within a breath of dying. He started shaking.

Taemon stumbled off the seat. His legs felt too weak to stand. But before he could steady himself, Yens yanked him sideways and shoved him up against the splintery rough wood of their fence. He wedged his forearm across Taemon’s neck. Even stronger than the pain and fear was the humiliation of being manhandled. Yens was attacking Taemon, which meant he had to do it with his hands. To use psi against another person, you had to be defending, assisting, or showing affection. And Yens was doing none of these.

“How did you drive it? You said you’d never seen one before.”

“I had to do something.” Taemon choked out the words. “You almost got us killed!”

Tiny splinters dug into his scalp as Yens pushed harder, forcing Taemon’s chin up and his head back.

“Tell me what you did just now,” Yens said, a terrible fierceness in his voice. “You shouldn’t be able to do that.”

His brother let the pressure off long enough for Taemon to gasp out a few words. “I can’t. I don’t even know what I did.”

“Taemon! Yens!” Mam called from the house. “Time for nut cake!”

Yens slammed him against the fence again. “You’ll tell me. I’ll make sure of it.” He let go and walked away.

Taemon sucked in short breaths and forced his tears back. He never should have allowed his mind to wander. It was bad, like Da said. What about what Yens had done? Placing yourself in danger so you can act outside authority?

Cha. That was bad, too.

Taemon sat in the backseat of the quadrider, with the luggage under his feet. Da was driving, Mam sat next to him, Yens and Uncle Fierre sat in the middle seats, and Taemon sat facing the back. It was just as well. Last night’s argument had picked up again, and he could steer clear of the bickering by sitting all the way back. At the moment, Yens was badgering Da.

“One of these days, you’re going to have to admit that the old ways don’t matter anymore.”

“Strength comes in many forms,” Da said. “Psi is only one of them.”

Yens snorted.

Taemon turned back to the view from the rear window, letting the others argue to their hearts’ content. They drove east toward the shore, passing the farmland that fed the city. In the backseat Taemon faced west, watching the city wall grow smaller in the distance and admiring the mountains that rose behind Deliverance. At their base they were green and lush with the early summer rain. Higher, the peaks were craggy, a row of spikes that protected the city from the rest of the world.

It had been Taemon’s own ancestor, the prophet Nathan, who had yanked those mountains out of flat ground. Talk about some powerful psi. Nathan was the one who discovered it. Only Da wouldn’t use the word
discovered.
Da said that the Heart of the Earth granted psi to the prophet Nathan because he was so righteous that he would never use it to hurt anyone or do anything selfish. Either way you look at it, Nathan was the first one to have the power to visualize something and make it so.

It had been over two hundred years since Nathan had fled from the Republik with his family and friends during the Great War. You’d think a person with psi would be revered, but the opposite was true. People had feared Nathan, despised him. The Republikite army had wanted to use him as a weapon in the Great War, but Nathan refused. He and his followers moved to a wilderness area by the coast and built the city of Deliverance. Nathan passed psi on to his children and his followers’ children, charging them to use it for good. Before long, Deliverance became a city of psi wielders. They tried to keep to themselves, but the Republik still harassed them. So Nathan used his psi to make the very mountains Taemon was staring at right now, the mountains that kept them separate from the rest of the world. The world finally got the idea and left them alone. Even now, there was no contact at all with the psiless cities of the Republik and the powerless people that lived on the other side of those mountains.

Taemon wondered how people lived without psi. Their lives must be so primitive. Did they even have running water? How would you turn it off without psi? It would have to have a lever of some kind that would move up and down to control the flow. Or maybe something like a screw would work better. But how would you turn a screw without psi?

Thinking up crazy machines and gadgets was Taemon’s favorite way to daydream. Soon his brain had moved from psiless faucets to Uncle Fierre’s unisphere. He saw its engine so clearly in his mind. As images swam through his head, his fingers twitched with anticipation; he longed to draw the unisphere.

He could do it. Da had given a journal to each of his boys as a way to encourage them to practice reading and writing. Yens had thrown his away, but Taemon had been filling his pages with sketches, bits of ideas, and questions about how things worked. His journal was tucked inside his suitcase, which was underneath his feet.

But he shouldn’t. If anyone saw his drawing of the unisphere, he’d be hard-pressed to explain how he’d seen the engine. Not only that, but reading and writing were old-fashioned and thoroughly uncool. Most people didn’t even know how to read anymore, and only those who had to keep records knew how to write — the clerks in the guilds, the priests in the churches. Prestige and privilege went to people who could wield psi with skill and talent. And who would be foolish enough to write down all that hard-earned knowledge in a book where anyone could steal it? Might as well give away all your money.

But the urge had taken hold of Taemon, and it wouldn’t leave until he’d drawn what was speeding through his mind.

He set to work using psi to rearrange the luggage, stacking it on the seat as a barricade between himself and the rest of the family. He padded a corner with the beach blankets Mam had packed, a space just big enough to curl up in with his journal. With his back to the family and the luggage piled up between them, no one would notice that he was writing.

Now to get his journal. He located his suitcase and used psi to unzip the outside pocket of the bag and imagined the journal easing out of the pocket and into his hands.
Be it so!

Nothing happened.

Hmm. Maybe he hadn’t put it in the pocket. He opened the main compartment with psi and prepared to rummage by hand through the swimming gear, underwear, and T-shirts.

But as soon as the bag was opened, Taemon realized his mistake: this was Yens’s suitcase, not his own. The bags were identical, and Taemon had mixed them up when he’d rearranged the luggage.

Something caught his eye. The tan corner of a book poking out from underneath a shirt. Taemon’s heart raced. What was his journal doing in Yens’s suitcase? Had Yens stolen it? What could he possibly want with it?

Taemon called the journal to him with psi, zipped the bag closed, then curled up in his corner and tried to think what to do next. Should he put the journal back and hope that Yens returned it? Or should he hold on to it and risk a confrontation once Yens realized it was missing? He thought back to Yens’s outburst the night before. He didn’t want to risk that again. Even so, Taemon’s fingers still itched to draw. Yens already knew that Taemon could drive the unisphere; what harm could there be in sketching the parts he’d seen?

He opened the journal to begin drawing. But rather than seeing his neat, blocky handwriting and his sketches, he saw spiky, awkward letters on the page.

T drove a unisphere. said he never saw one before but he knew how to drive it. how? it has to be a mind trick of some kind but he doesn’t even know what it is or what it can do. i should have it. i will have it. it can’t be that hard. i will make him tell me how he does it and i will be the true son. yens the true son.

Skies! It was Yens’s journal. The one he said he’d thrown away. Yens wanted to learn mind wandering? How would that help him be selected as the True Son? Didn’t he know how dangerous it was?

He flipped through the previous pages. The entries spanned several months. It seemed like Yens was experimenting with psi, looking for ways to get around the safeguards, ways to be more powerful.

danger increases power, but fear weakens it. facing danger without fear gives the most power. authority doesn’t matter anymore.

Taemon slipped the journal back into Yens’s suitcase and zipped it up. It took longer than it should have because the whirling thoughts in his head made it difficult to focus enough to use psi. He thought again about what had happened on the unisphere last night. Yens had purposefully put himself and Taemon in danger in order to expand his psionic power. How many people could do that? How many people
would
do that? Skies, Yens had the icy nerve of a jaguar.

Still, Taemon shuddered to think how wrong that was. Authority doesn’t matter? Your own brother’s
life
doesn’t matter? Was that the big change that the next Great Cycle would bring? He wasn’t sure he wanted to live in a place where psi had no boundaries and where power was more important than people’s lives.

Worry tightened Taemon’s chest. Yens was determined to seek out danger in more ways than one. And no matter what the goal was, Yens always scored.

At the beach, Taemon walked the path that followed the rocky shoreline, hoping for a few minutes alone — and something to distract him from his confused thoughts about Yens. He had a school project he was supposed to work on over the summer, and he needed some ideas. The assignment was to design your own psi lock for your locker. The lock had to be unique so that only its maker knew how it worked. Unlocking it meant picturing the mechanism releasing, then using psi to make it happen. Make it too simple and anyone could figure out how to unlock it. Make it too complicated and even the maker might have trouble holding the release image in his head. The assignment wasn’t that hard, but this was the kind of thing Taemon loved puzzling out. He wanted to create something truly original.

Da always said the best inspiration comes from nature. Taemon walked over to the knee-high stone wall that ran along the sandy path, just high enough to keep someone from accidentally falling off. Looking over the ledge, he saw the ocean a few feet down and wondered how it might help him design a lock.

Waves.

Rocks.

Crashing.

He’d been lucky to avoid a crash last night. Maybe he could use something from the unisphere’s design for his lock. Maybe . . .

“Dare you to jump in right here,” Yens said.

Taemon turned around. Yens had crept up next to him. Once again Taemon found himself right where he didn’t want to be — alone with Yens.

“C’mon, freakling. Jump in,” Yens repeated.

The water didn’t look too bad. He was a good swimmer. He could probably do it. The problem was that Yens would turn it into something else, something dangerous. Taemon stepped away from the edge and back to the path. “Nah,” he said.

“Right,” Yens said. “Let’s go for a walk instead because that’s so much more exciting.”

Yens was bored. And a bored Yens was a dangerous Yens.

Taemon kept walking. Both boys were quiet for the next few minutes, Taemon keeping to himself and Yens poking the sand with a stick. Then Yens began walking on top of the rocky ledge.

Taemon watched his brother out of the corner of his eye. It made him nervous to see Yens flirting with danger again, but he was certain that’s exactly what Yens wanted. If he ignored him, maybe Yens would give up. It wasn’t easy, though, with Yens pretending to stagger and stumble, leaning this way and that with a smirky grin on his face.

“Whoa,” Yens said, teetering dramatically. He waved his arms to gain balance.

Taemon looked away.

“Whoa!” Yens called, more loudly this time. Taemon rolled his eyes and looked back — just in time to see Yens teeter toward the edge and then disappear over the wall.

Was it a trick? It must be. Taemon waited for Yens to jump out or yell or anything.

Nothing happened.

Taemon wouldn’t go near the edge. He wasn’t going to fall for Yens’s prank. He waited several minutes, listening to the surge of the surf, the cries of the gulls. Another several minutes. Nothing.

What if something had happened to Yens? Shouldn’t he check, at least? Just one tiny look. He walked over to the ledge, planted his feet solidly on the ground, and peeked over the wall.

And there was Yens. Crouched on a rock on the other side. His laughter was loud and cocky.

“Got you that time!”

“I had to check on you, that’s all.”

Yens climbed up the rocks toward the wall. Taemon helped Yens up with a little psi boost. Before he realized what was happening, Taemon felt himself being yanked forward, his belly pinned to the stone wall. He hung there, head on the ocean side of the wall and feet on the other, slowly tipping forward.

“Let’s go for a swim,” Yens said with a snarl.

“Stop it, Yens.” Yens shouldn’t be able to use psi to hurt anyone, especially his own brother. But after reading his brother’s journal, Taemon was beginning to think that Yens was capable of just about anything.

“Tell me how you drove the unisphere.”

Taemon’s head was pounding, and the stone wall jamming in his gut made it hard to get a good breath. “Skies! Is power all you care about?”

Yens’s face contorted into an odd scowl. Taemon felt a shove of psi and toppled over the wall. A shower of pebbles escorted him into the water below.

The water was warm, but it was strong and deep. The small waves on the surface hid an incredible force that shoved and pulled at Taemon as he tried to swim to shore. The water tugged him outward, then thrust him back toward the rocks and jammed him against a boulder. Before Taemon could climb the rock, he was thrust outward again by the sea.

He wondered how fast he was moving. Fast enough to break a bone if he hit the rocks wrong?
Don’t panic,
Taemon told himself.
Focus on breathing.
The water would eventually push him back toward the rock, where he’d have another chance to climb out.

And it did. Taemon tried to keep himself aligned so his feet would hit the rocks first. Better his legs get broken than something indispensable like his head. He glanced up and saw Yens standing on the boulder. He breathed a bit easier.

Taemon’s feet hit the boulder just as he’d planned. He bent his knees to cushion the impact, and nothing broke. Swinging his arms forward, he managed to hug the boulder, but his toes found no footholds. He scrabbled for purchase on the smooth, slippery rock. “Help me!”

Taemon felt psi pulling at his shoulders. His body started to lift out of the water. Relief washed over him.

Just before Taemon could get to a safe position, his forward momentum stopped. He hung suspended above the rock.

“Tell me how you worked the unisphere,” Yens said. “Then I’ll help you.”

“I told you, I don’t know! I just saw it. I can’t explain how!”

“Try.”

The waves returned, engulfing Taemon from the waist down and pressing him up against the rock. He fought to breathe.

“If I concentrate,” he began, knowing that he had no choice, “I can search things with my mind. See how they work. But I don’t know how I do it! I just do. Da said never to tell anyone. He said it’s dangerous!”

“Dangerous for you. But I know what to do with it.”

“Forget all this stuff about danger increasing power. You’re asking for disaster.”

Yens grinned. “That’s the whole point.” And he let go.

Taemon fell into the water, and the sea hauled him out again.

Once more Taemon fought to position himself for another chance to climb onto the rocks. But this time he felt something different. This time the ocean pulled him sideways. Not much, but it meant he’d end up someplace other than the big boulder. Maybe a better place to climb out. Maybe worse. No way to know.

Sure enough, when Taemon was pushed back to shore, he missed the boulder by a few feet. Yens was yelling something, but Taemon couldn’t make it out.

Here the rocks were submerged under the churning sea. He couldn’t see them, but he could feel them scraping his knees and shins. He had to find someplace safer.

In the rocks he
could
see, there was a gap that caught his eye. Maybe that would lead to a way out. He tried to aim toward it.

It worked. Taemon reached the gap. No more hidden rocks smashing into his body. But it wasn’t just a gap. The sea pushed him into a cave the size of his living room.

At least he was safe. He’d rest here awhile and swim out in a few minutes. It should be easy. He would figure out the timing of the water’s pull and use it to help him swim out of the cave. With his strength back, he should be able to aim himself at the boulder once again. He needed to rest a bit, that’s all. Catch his breath.

Taemon waded through the shallow water to the back of the cave and found a ledge that he could sit on, the water up to his waist. As his breathing slowed, he looked around at this strange hidden place. Sunlight poured in from the opening and reflected off the water, throwing beams of light in various directions on the cave walls, and creating rippled rainbows.

Taemon wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but the water was up to his chest now and he figured it was time to swim out. He concentrated on the rhythm of the waves and timed his swimming to match it. He swam toward the opening, but the ocean’s pull was deceiving. When the water’s direction changed, he found himself pinned against the wall of the cave.