The day before, Aliya told me that meditating upside-down was supposed to be more beneficial than right side up for some reason. I had thought she was kidding and laughed until I saw the indignant look on her face that told me I was unintentionally mocking her beliefs yet again. She then explained that the Askani sisters with telekinetic powers would use that ability to hover up side down while meditating, and she expected me to do the same as part of my training. It was supposed to be some kind of privilege that I had the ability to do so... Aliya herself couldn't, since she was only telepathic, but she insisted that I be able to do it anyway.
I tried, I really did, but I just couldn't manage. In fact, I almost passed out trying. Sometimes, I really hate myself, and that was one of those moments. There I was, in front of my teacher and the woman I've been somewhat involved with over the last few months, and I couldn't even get through a simple exercise without exhausting myself. It seemed that every time I almost had myself convinced that having this blasted techno-organic virus didn't really matter, I was again reminded that it resulted in far more than disfiguring scars and a left arm made of living metal rather than flesh. There were benefits, I supposed, such as an enhanced right eye and greater strength than any normal person, but the negative effects always outweighed that.
I was born a mutant with the abilities of telepathy and telekinesis, but most of my active power always went toward simply holding my own body together. It sounded disturbing to most, but at every moment of my life, I had to focus most of my telekinetic power on keeping the virus from spreading farther and taking over more of my body, which would kill me in a fairly short period of time. I had some close calls with it during my life, but always survived. I always got the feeling from my adopted parents that it was some kind of miracle every time I woke up in the morning, though. That bothered me, because I always saw what I went through, the constant pain and struggle to control my own body, only as something necessary that I've always had to do and nothing more. It was just frustrating when I really needed to use my powers for something else, but couldn't.
Aliya must have thought I looked pretty pathetic after falling on my head for the fifth time or so when my powers simply weren't strong enough to lift me and control the virus at the same time, because she finally settled for allowing me to find another method I could handle. That was why I was hanging upside-down from a tree branch by my legs that afternoon. It was close enough, I supposed, only I couldn't clear my head for long enough to work on my mental techniques once I got in position. At least I was upside-down... I still wasn't sure what it was supposed to prove, though. In fact, most of my training didn't make any sense at all. Aliya kept telling me to trust her, that it would all become clear at a later time. And, of course, I went along with it, because for some reason I just couldn't say no to her.
I sighed as I hung there, my eyes closed, the sun beating down on me and sending distracting beads of sweat trailing down my skin. I was supposed to be able to ignore the sweat dripping off my nose and concentrate on my 'inner harmony,' whatever that was, but all I could think about was reaching up and wiping it away. I told myself repeatedly that I couldn't, because that would mean I'd failed in my training again, and stubbornly kept my arms crossed over my chest. Just as I'd come close to forgetting about the sweat and the pounding in my head, though, a familiar voice spoke in my mind and broke whatever remaining concentration I might have had.
"Nathan, someone is approaching," the Professor said in his usual emotionless tone. He was an artificial life form of some kind, after all. He somehow formed in my chest when I was younger, another side effect of the virus which I didn't completely understand. He remained with me ever since, as a guide, teacher and even friend. But even with as much as he'd done for me, he could still be annoying. He always seemed to know the worst possible times to speak up, too, like that night Aliya and I were talking down by the lake. Just as we were about to kiss, he saw it fit to tell me that mosquitoes were biting my legs. As if I cared ! Still, I had to admit it was nice to know someone was looking out for me, especially since I spent most of my teen years on my own.
"I was trying to meditate, you know," I telepathically responded, still a little annoyed despite the fact that I had asked him to let me know if that circumstance were to come about. It wasn't as if I was having much luck clearing my head anyway. Aliya would have said that it was because I have such a thick skull... That comment would have been insulting a few months ago, but now the thought brought a smile to my face.
"You did instruct me to alert you if anyone entered the area," Professor stated with an almost undetectable hint of offense, even though he had heard me think the same thing a moment before. He just wanted to rub in the fact that I was wrong, I thought.
"I know, I know. This is just frustrating..." I replied with a mental sigh. I was about to flip down from the branch when a loud voice shouted my name just a few feet away, startling me and taking me completely by surprise. My eyes snapped open in alarm as I fought to right myself, only to feel my legs slip away from the thick branch due to my sudden movement. A moment later, I was lying on the ground, dazed and with pine needles digging into my back. I blinked to clear my head, then found myself looking up at my best friend, whose expression mirrored the surprise I felt.
"You sure waited long enough to warn me!" I said to the Professor with exasperation, then returned my focus to the man standing over me. "Tetherblood," I muttered after my vision has cleared a bit, briefly closing my eyes in annoyance at myself. "Stop gawking at me and help me up!"
"Oh, right! Sure, Dayspring," he stumbled after a pause, offering me a hand. I took it and let him haul me to my feet, which was more of an effort than one would suspect. I might have been thin, but my partially techno-organic make-up added a good deal of weight to my frame. I was already working on further developing my muscles, though, because I wasn't really satisfied with the way I looked. Rebellion leaders shouldn't be scrawny, after all, and neither should guys who are trying to impress their attractive female companions...
Once I was standing again, I hastily brushed myself off as I felt the pressure in my head slowly drain away, then crossed my arms and glared at Tetherblood. He'd been my best friend since I was thirteen and on my own for the first time and we'd stuck together ever since, even if we didn't always agree. We'd saved each other's lives more times than either of us could remember, though we sometimes tried in a half-joking attempt to outdo each other. He thought of himself as my guardian or something, the levelheaded one who always kept me out of trouble. And if that was true, which I suspected it was, he did a terrible job of it. None of his warnings to me about crossing the Canaanites had sunken in, obviously. He might have disagreed at the time, but he stood by me, and now he was as certain of the cause as I was. But from the look on his face as his studied me, I could tell he was still confused about some of the other things I've been doing lately.
"Umm... This might be a stupid question, Nate, but... Why were you hanging upside-down from a tree with your eyes closed? I didn't know you were part possum, though it would explain a lot." Tetherblood snickered, his dark eyes shining with humor. I rolled my eyes at him and slowly stretched out my right shoulder, which had had the unfortunate luck of breaking my fall.
"I was meditating," I told him, as if it were self-evident. "Then someone sneaked up on me and broke my concentration!"
"What's that Aliya always says, about telepaths having no excuse for people sneaking up on them?"
Tetherblood's grin grew wider, and he firmly clapped me on the back. I winced, feeling a bruise already forming there, but sighed and gave up on remaining angry with him. I'd always been told I was impossible to get along with, so it was to his credit that he stuck around as long as he had. And with as many enemies as I had won recently, I needed all the friends I could get.
"You're hanging from trees for her now, eh?" Tetherblood asked me, referring to Aliya again. It was one of his joys in life, teasing me about her. I couldn't wait until he got a girlfriend so I could return the favor.
"Not for her, T," I said with a frustrated sigh. "It's part of the teachings. I was practicing for a test she's planning for me. And now if I fail, it's your fault!"
"You won't fail, Dayspring," he said, his grin only widening as the two of us began to walk through the woods together, back in the direction of our camp. "The teacher likes you, after all." He winked, and I didn't even bother to argue. It was true, after all, or so I hoped. I doubt she'd hesitate to fail me because of it, though. She just wasn't like that, which was part of what I found so fascinating about her. She was as stubborn as I was, strong-willed and independent, and more than capable of putting me in my place. In anyone else, I'd find that really annoying, but in her, it was extremely attractive.
I found myself grinning like a fool as I thought about the meeting we had planned for later that night, partially another lesson and partially just to be together. We'd come a long way since our initial meeting, when all we did was fight and insult each other, I thought with satisfaction. I'd been enjoying our growing relationship a great deal more than all the arguing. I could always find someone else to trade witty comments with, after all... It was a natural talent of mine.
"I did come looking for you for a reason, by the way," Tetherblood stated a moment later as we stepped over a fallen tree trunk in our path. I'd nearly forgotten about his interruption of my meditation by then, so lost in happier thoughts, but I forced myself to hold off on that for the moment and focus on my friend.
"Oh? Watching me fall on my head wasn't enough for you?"
"That was an added bonus! But no, I really wanted to tell you that the southern defense wall around the base has just been completed!" He smiled with pride, and I soon joined him, noting that we'd had members of our group working on that project for weeks. "We should be a lot safer now if the Canaanites pick up on the direction we traveled after leaving the battle."
"Great!" I exclaimed, genuinely pleased. The wall would make defending ourselves a lot easier. "Now all we need is to build another wall in the North, and we're all set. I don't expect an attack from that direction, but it never hurts to be safe."
Tetherblood nodded, and I could already see the gears turning in his head. He and Aliya were my partners in the rebellion, even if it was I who had somehow been chosen by the Askani belief system as their leader and savior. I still didn't like the title or the idea of being some kind of idol to anyone, but I slowly managed to accept it because it was what I had to do. Even with so many loyal followers, I could never have run the rebellion alone, and Aliya and Tetherblood were invaluable. They were the only people that kept me sane half the time, and that was saying a lot.
"I'll get a team together as soon as I can," my friend assured me, nodding thoughtfully. As we walked side-by-side, I noticed for the first time that I now stood taller than he did. When had that happened? I wondered absently, used to being at least a few inches shorter. I guess I really had been busy... I was growing up and I hadn't even realized it.
"Nathan, you became taller than Tetherblood exactly two months and 13 days ago," Professor informed me helpfully. "He has completed his growth, I calculate, and measures six feet and 7 centimeters in height. You, on the other hand, continue to gain in height and have now reached six feet, one inch, and 5 centimeters."
"Thanks for the information," I muttered to him in my mind, as bored as usual with his rambling of statistics. It could be helpful at times, but one could only stand so many calculations of people's exact heights and the precise size of different towns before wanting to jump off a steep cliff. Or the changes in one's body temperature, or how long it was going to take for me to get dressed in the morning for that matter. Sometimes, he even told me how long I had to live unless I did something to save myself. That was always fun.
"So, you're meeting with Aliya tonight, right?" Tetherblood asked slyly as we reached the outskirts of the camp. The two guards positioned there snapped to attention when they saw us coming, but relaxed when they realized whom it was and returned to their posts. They were good people, I thought, pleased with my selection. Jakob had come a long way since his first mission, a supply raid on a nearby town, and Payton had been a natural from the start. I nodded a polite acknowledgment to each of them, then turned back to Tetherblood.
"Yes," I said matter-of-factly. Sometimes I swore he was the telepath, and not the other way around. "You find that amusing?"
"I wouldn't say amusing," he replied, grinning widely anyway. "It just seems like you two are spending an awful lot of time together lately."
"She's my teacher. We have to."
"Uh-huh... Oath, Dayspring, you think everyone in this whole camp can't see what the real reason is?"
I rolled my eyes, unable to come up with a better defense since I already knew he was right. I liked her as far more than my teacher, and I feared it was painfully obvious. I just wished he wouldn't keep rubbing it in. "So what?" I mumbled, embarrassed for some reason as we walked down a narrow dirt path through our camp, past a neat row of tents housing various rebellion members.
"I'm just teasing you, I hope you know," he said in a more gentle tone, the joking gone for the moment. "I couldn't be happier for you. I got tired of seeing you mope around and complain that no one would ever like you after the first five years or so!"
"I know," I gave in, stopping outside of my tent, which was only a short distance away from his own. I still wasn't sure how Aliya felt about me, or if she shared my feelings at all, but just having the hope that she might was thrilling and made me get out of bed in the morning with a smile on my face. "Now if you don't mind, I'd like to get out of these dirty clothes before dinner."
"Good idea. You have grass in your hair, by the way. Very attractive."
"Oath," I muttered, shaking my head and turning to enter my tent, leaving Tetherblood to snicker behind me.
to be continued...
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