Sci-Fi / Fantasy
Date Published: September 15, 2015
The Orion Psi Corps is in shambles, the dead still being counted. And though Orion’s retaliation has begun, Calchis isn’t finished yet.
New Axom City—that’s where Nyne Allen has taken refuge in the wake of his desertion from Orion. Soon it will become a battlefield, as familiar faces from both sides barrel toward a collision that will forever alter the course of history.
Meanwhile, in the Far East, Aaron Waverly learns the truth behind the red-robed man, and discovers a destiny that might one day spell the end of the world itself.
The air was on fire.
As the blaze embraced her, she raised her hands, shielded her eyes; the billows of flame engulfed her as she screamed her defiance. The world blinked shut, like an eye closing, and when it opened once more, she saw faces, murmuring alarm. She tried to tell them they should leave her be, let her die in peace, her body still ablaze as if subsumed in the inferno. Yet before she could speak, wings of darkness enveloped her, carried her into oblivion.
When she surfaced again, she saw glaring lights.
She lay upon a gurney, moving swiftly through florescent-lit halls, the acrid stench of burned hair like a halo around her. Again, faces peered at her, their voices a low babble, distorted, as if through a tunnel. When a sudden movement jarred her, she howled, her vocal cords raw, like pulverized meat. Even the air rushing by tormented her.
What had happened?
She glanced about, eyes rolling, unable to move her head. A sign loomed above: Burn Ward. Another jolt shook her, and an animal sound escaped her throat as she lapsed again into unconsciousness.
She awoke in a white, sterile room, and for a moment thought she was somewhere familiar. But the hospital room was only an echo of a place she couldn’t quite recall, the memory slipping from her like sand through a sieve. She shifted in her bed, gasped, and only then looked down at her arms and hands, covered in bandages, the rest of her hidden beneath a thin, tan wool blanket. She could feel where those bandages compressed her flesh, chafed her raw throat, her belly, breasts, legs, and feet.
To her left, she saw a morphine drip, but could not reach it, the effort of moving her arm more than she could bear. She tried to cry for help, but now her voice came only in croaks and whimpers. She was trapped in her scorched body, no one to help her, while machines and monitors mocked her with ceaseless beeping.
A male nurse walked by the room, peered through the door’s glass pane, and she met his eyes, silently begging him for aid. He ran off, and for those next interminable minutes, each second seemed to her a test of will simply to exist. An inner voice told her to be strong, that she could make it through this, and she clung to it, the vague notion that she could endure all that she had. Mentally, she counted, One, two, three, four, five, those numbers like a life raft, though she did not know why.
At last, the doctor arrived—an austere, dark-haired man in a white coat, his eyes gauging her behind silver-framed glasses. She could read the pity on his face. “My name is Dr. Shipley,” he said. “You’ve been involved in a very bad accident. I don’t mean to alarm you, but you’ve suffered third degree burns over sixty percent of your body. Do you understand?”
She tried to nod while her mind processed. An accident? Of course. How else could she have ended up like this?
“How’s the pain?” Shipley asked. “I can increase the painkillers if you—”
“Hurts,” she rasped, her voice like sandpaper.
Shipley adjusted the morphine. “Your esophagus is damaged, from inhaling superheated air. I’ll ask a couple more questions, but keep your answers to one or two words. After that, no talking. Okay?”
She nodded again as the painkillers entered her system, making her woozy.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
She opened her mouth to reply, then closed it, the answer elusive. The pain had so consumed her that, until now, she hadn’t realized the details of her life were whispers and shadows lurking in unseen corners of her mind. She couldn’t remember her name, nor the accident, nor anything else. She choked back a sob, the force of it stabbing at her injured body.
“You don’t know?” Shipley asked.
Feebly, she shook her head.
“Well,” Shipley said, “given the trauma you’ve been through, it’s not unheard of. Unfortunately, when you were found, you had no identification, and your hands are too badly burned for us to take fingerprints. But don’t worry. When you’ve had the chance to recover, I’m sure it’ll come back to you.” He offered her a reassuring smile.
She knew he was trying to comfort her, and so restrained the urge to tell him to go fuck himself. Don’t worry too much? What kind of advice was that?
“Is the pain still bad?” he asked her. He fiddled with the drip again, and the room grew hazy, indistinct, before she could manage a word.
When she opened her eyes, the room was dark, all shapes indistinct save the colors on the monitor feeds. Burning, throbbing blanketed her. She rolled her head to the side, saw that the window shade lay slightly open, revealing the lights of an unfamiliar city—the greens and reds of traffic signals, the whites of far-off windows, the myriad colors of illuminated billboards. She had no idea where she was.
Despairing, she wept, and as the grief shuddered through her, it ignited her body anew, though she could do nothing to stem her tears. “Why?” she murmured. What sin had she committed that she was being punished so? “Why did this happen?” She didn’t care that she was not supposed to speak, for hearing her own voice reassured her; it was an anchor, even if it was a whisper.
And that was what she had become, she realized. A shadow of her former self.
The “Why” of Storytelling
Why do we tell stories?
It’s a fundamental question, with many answers: To share our words, our experiences; to achieve a level of recognition, career success, in a field that we love; to channel our own lives—our joys and sadness—into something transmutative and cathartic for our own souls; to, as Aristotle wrote in his Poetics, “through pity and fear [effect] the purgation of these emotions,” thus liberating us to lead a freer and more effective existence.
I feel there’s no greater goal than a “good story well told.” Stories extend far beyond the written word. There are stories in every piece of music, every painting, every film and fascinating movement of the passersby we observe on street corners, in cafés and local stores.
A good story resonates, echoes deep into our subconscious minds, eliciting a human connection beyond what words can convey. Robert Frost wrote, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” Why is that if we feel what we write, the reader feels it too?
I’ve always ascribed to the philosophies of Carl Jung and his theories of the collective unconscious, and my time both as a consumer of story, and as creator of it, has allowed me to feel its awesome tidal swells. The breadth and depth of the human race itself, the enormity of mankind’s experience, somehow echoes in us all. How else could characters who have never existed on any mortal plane move us so deeply? Bring us to tears, to anger, or make us feel an incomparable sense of hope? How could the very possibility of something that has never in fact occurred make us feel with such powerful conviction?
Story connects us, and I think a good story is a reflection of the most fundamental aspects of human experience: love, and loss; life, and death. It is no less true despite its immaterial nature.
“I like a good story well told,” Mark Twain once said. “That is the reason I am sometimes forced to tell them myself.”
We all tell stories, whether we are writers or not. When we come home from at work, put our feet up, pour a glass of wine, and tell our loved ones about our day, we are storytellers. When we dance to a beautiful piece of music, expressing our inner selves, we are storytellers. When we sing along to the radio, when we draw a picture, when we imagine . . . we are storytellers. For what is storytelling, but the articulation of all that we are, as individuals, and as a collective whole?
We tell stories because they illuminate the human condition. We do not exist in a vacuum. We are all connected. Stories seep down into the deepest layers of what comprise us as human beings. They move us without explanation. Somehow, they penetrate the thick armor we don each day to bear the world’s wicked barbs and prods, and lay us naked and vulnerable, whimpering, quivering, crying in both despair and exultation. They leave us knowing that no matter what hardship we endure, we are not alone. In this vale of tears, we all suffer. But our stories connect us, now, and forever.
We tell stories because they remind us of who we really are, and yet they also provide a conduit to tap into something greater than ourselves. They let us know there is something other than what we can see, or feel with our fingertips. We tell stories because they take us beyond all time, all place, to a realm that knows no mortal ken, that is both impermanent and yet eternal.
We are the stories we tell.
Dan Levinson is a NY-based writer of speculative fiction. Trained as an actor at NYU’s Tisch School of Arts, he also writes for the stage and screen. He grew up immersing himself in fantastical worlds, and now creates them. In addition to the Psionic Earth series, he is also the author of the upcoming YA fantasy novel The Ace of Kings, first book of The Conjurer’s Cycle.