This story started as a tweet, and I decided to expand it:
Once the Power has awoken, its Shadow will whisper in your ear forever. Only the ascetic way of the Pon-Ju warrior will keep it at bay. But, you must also learn to fight with a plasma-blade to battle those who have surrendered to the Shadow… #SCIFIFRI
— Orion (he/him/his) (@OrionKidder) March 9, 2018
Grace Leung had been having nightmares for as long as she could remember. They were always some variation on mazes, shadows, and whispering. That night, the night Luis visited, she was in a place that looked like her school, but the halls were narrow and shadowy, and around every corner, other kids were huddled in circles, talking about her, laughing at her. She was scared of them. Scared they would try to hurt her.
She woke up to the sound of a scream. It had taken her weeks to realize it was her own scream, cut off by her waking up. She waited for her mother to run in and comfort her, like she always did, but there were no footsteps. She opened her eyes and sat up in bed. Across the room, a dark-haired boy about her age was was sitting on her toy box. He was wearing a white tunic and tall boots. He sat up straight with his hands at his sides.
“Lights!” she called. The lights came up to half-strength. She glanced at the security panel on her door. “Why are you in my room?”
The boy regarded her calmly, “My name is Luis, and you’re Grace,” he said.
“Where is my mom?”
“She is asleep,” he said, gesturing in the air towards their room. “So is your father, and…” he gestured again, in another direction, “your sister.”
“Why are you in my room?”
“I understand why you’d be upset. This situation is unusual. I am sorry for that.”
“Why. Are you in. My room.”
“Alright…” He collected himself for a moment. “I’ve seen your nightmares, Grace. I wanted to tell you why you’re having them.”
She didn’t say anything.
“I know how that sounds, but it’s true. I had nightmares a lot like them. After a while, they came to me in the daytime.”
“How did you know about that?” she asked.
“Because it happened to me. I’m not trying to trick you.”
She thought for a while, and finally she said, “Tell me about yours.”
He clenched his jaw and swallowed hard. “They were always in the ship I grew up on, lots of hallways and blinking lights. There were shadows everywhere, and monsters in the shadows. The monsters always looked like my parents.”
“Why do we have the same nightmares?”
Another gulp. “Because there’s something in both of us, a power. It can do all these amazing things. It can make you strong and fast. You can read minds. You can even see the future! You can do almost anything, if you can figure out how.”
“Tell me,” she could barely say it. “where the nightmares come from.”
“It’s a part of the power that’s full of fear and anger. They call it a shadow. It’s dangerous. It starts in your dreams, then it comes in the daytime.”
Tears started rolling down her face. “I hear it when I’m awake. It whispers to me,” she said.
“You hear whispering?” She nodded and wiped away her tears with the heel of her hand. “For me, it’s visions, like nightmares, but in the daytime. They never go away. It’s… hard.”
They were both quiet for a few seconds.
“How did you know?” she asked.
“About your nightmares? We can hear each other. All of us.”
“You said you saw my nightmares,” she said.
“For me, it’s like seeing. Other people say they can smell it.” He hesitated. “It’s not quite seeing or hearing. It’s like something else.”
“Will the nightmares ever go away?” she asked.
“No. I’m so sorry. They won’t. Ever.” He waited to say the next part. “They get worse. They tell you that everyone you love hates you and wants to hurt you, and after a while, they tell you to hurt them first, to keep everyone around you scared so that you can feel safe. And you’ll have the power, so—”
“I could do it. I could hurt them. My friends.”
“Yes. But your family is who we worry about. You’ll hurt them first,” he said.
“It’s true. That’s what it wants. I hear it all the time.” She started sobbing now, her face contorting. “What do I do?”
“We can help you. There’s a lot of us!” He leaned in. “We are called the Order of the Pon-Ju. We can teach you to meditate, to calm yourself, find a balance. It just takes time to learn.”
“Can you—” Her voice broke again. She took several deep breaths until she thought she could speak again. “Can you train me?”
“Yes!” He was excited. “But you would have to come with me right away. Staying here is dangerous.”
“The shadows would make you hurt your family. I’ve seen it. It’s awful.
“Can I even say goodbye?”
“If you try to say goodbye,” he started to cry too. Silent tears. “They’ll never let you go.”
“How long before I…?” She couldn’t say it.
He stared at the ceiling for a moment. “Days? When it happens, it happens fast.”
“I can’t. I can’t just—”
“I know,” he said. “This all happened to me, too. But there’s another thing you should know. We can’t get to everyone. Some can’t master the meditation, so they leave. Some refuse to come with us. Some of them, we never find. And when they turn, we have to… stop them.”
She pulled back against the headboard. She stopped crying. He continued.
“A lot of them are organized. They call themselves Shadow Soldiers. They’re strong, so we have to be strong, too. We made something to fight them with.”
“So if I say no?”
He pulled a device from his hip. It was like the barrel of a blaster but with a trigger button instead of a grip. He made a show of wrapping one finger around the button. There was a whip-cracking sound and then a low, steady hum. A shaft of glowing, silver energy extended a meter from the barrel. “This is a plasma-sword. It’s the traditional weapon of the Pon-Ju Warrior…”
(C) Copyright Orion Ussner Kidder, 2018