. .

The Apprentice’s Kaleidoscope

by Juan Antonio Fernández Madrigal

Lègere

Like a burst. Lègere has closed his eyes for a moment, hardly a second, and a whole story has been projected onto his eyelids. He has distinguished a cliff and a dance of dark colors with a rhythm marked by the arpeggio of an imaginary clavichord. The arpeggio threads the warp of a large tapestry of music. He has also seen the light of the stars, hanging from a sky that wasn’t black but dark blue like the innermost folds of the cloak of night; stars that weren’t tiny and out of reach but large like the lighthouses of gods. He has heard the thick murmur of the sea and has been flooded by the smell of salt and night fishing. And he has caught a glimpse of a path that reaches that place, which necessarily exists since he has seen himself there, although now it is blurrier, toying with his memory. In returning to the real world, he resigns himself to admit that his complex vision is becoming just a trail of sapphire hues and a splash in D minor.

He closes his eyes hard again, until they are throbbing. But as usual, in spite of hanging on for seconds, Lègere cannot recreate the vision in his mind. Weaker and weaker strokes insist on drawing a meaningless lattice from the distorted shreds of the original feelings.

After a while, he shrugs his shoulders, lets a tasteless blade of grass fall from his lips, and falls asleep on the Green Hill under the Sweet Moon.

 

The awakening

Like a burst

brings the same sensations as the light sleep. They seek out the scars scratched on his retinas, producing the same effects (maybe slightly deeper since they are already known). He feels the pleasant brilliance of stars; the silky, indigo cloak of night covering both his body and his heart; the sticky salt that floats in the wind and the light rumor of the minimalist music. He thinks that he feels the firm surface of the rocks on the cliff under his feet. He thinks that he feels his feet separated from the stone only by his moccasins. He thinks that he sees himself: indeed, he is in that weird place, after following a long, yet fuzzy path. He wants to catch a glimpse of that path.

Then the colors start to dissolve from the mental trail as if the end of the vision, he on the top of the cliff, pulls from the course of his journey, leaving just a stain. He sees, wants to see, the path, the places where it passed by — he barely distinguishes a black-soiled plain, a color so different from that of the soft grass meadows of his homeland. As an unsolicited response, the vision turns. Suddenly he sees himself again, right where he really is at that moment, at home; but that is the way into the story. The opposite end (the cliffs) and the intermediate warp (the path) have been definitively blurred.

 

Sergeant

A small bit of his arm fell off. The sound was muffled, and a tiny dust cloud arose from the soil and stayed there, black as coal, reflecting the rays of the desert’s implacable sun on his eyes, like revenge. He gazed at it for a while, although less than he would have desired, since his insides were starting to stir, producing fluids and energy as a result of the unexpected change. He felt a systematic tickling in his arm, where the viscous, reddish hollow had been exposed.

He bent down to take the black stuff, compelling himself not to focus on the incipient itching; his fingers rotated the shapeless thing, casting reflections on its broken edges. He brought it closer to his nose to smell the burnt stench, apparently intensified by the sun. He hit it delicately, rhythmically, paying attention to the almost inaudible echo returned by the inner substance of such a bit of matter.

Finally, he pressed it against the hollow in his arm. There it stayed embedded. The tickling became a soft murmur that he could easily forget.

He jumped from the hillock where he had stayed to scan the horizon, landing back without difficulties beyond the dark soil, in the ochre desert so different from the black, compact ground that he had left. This time, the dust cloud covered him completely after the impact. But there was no wind and so the particles fell over quickly, dirtying his feet and legs.

He had not allowed himself to stay in the irradiated terrain more than a few minutes. Enough. He had begun to feel a little bit dizzy. But he decided to attribute it to the way in which his body was working to mend his arm.

 

In the morning, his arm didn’t itch any more, and he could again spend his time repairing Hades. The irregular structure rose up on the omnipresent desert plain, dozens of ribs tearing the sky, still broken but increasingly covered by a metallic skin as time passed. Even the view of such a skinless and hollow bulk, like an acacia about to dry up, pleading for rain, made all his innermost fluids run swiftly. He had done his best to repair it, but he had been alone for a long time, and his analytical mind did not allow him to be very hopeful that the work would finish soon.

As he climbed Hades, he took a look over his shoulder. The remains of some of his comrades were spread close to the large structure; they looked like excrescences of the sand shaken by the ups and downs of the wind. They succumbed right after the landing. Others, however, had had the opportunity to walk across the plain, whose soil was blackened from the explosion. Of course, they fell during their advance, motionless, with their insides completely burnt, destroyed: it hadn’t been a good idea to go there. He hadn’t felt that need yet, which was one of the reasons he had survived. He had been smarter than his comrades.

The top of the keel of Hades was quite high, silhouetted against the blue sky. He held a metallic sheet there with a fixing point. Then he jumped to the ground, frightening a small rodent as his huge body emerged from the cloud of dust. His foot pushed the nearby remains of a comrade until they turned. He pushed once more, studying them thoroughly.

With a sudden movement, he pulled out a piece of that ruined forearm. A rigid, narrow, long tube with an even narrower metallic tip protruded. His fingers trimmed some nerves that hung limp from the end and then he climbed back along one of the huge ribs of Hades, until he was again close to the metallic sheet, which now swayed slightly in the wind.

With some difficulty, he put the piece of the forearm onto his own left arm. When the connectors clicked into place, he brought the electrode close to the joint of the metallic structure of Hades and imagined a spark. His body acted as ground.

 

Lègere | Ladia

Lègere is prone to having visions that can come at any time. No sooner has he closed his eyes in a light sleep (sometimes even when the stories of Lacandros whirl around the details of their descendants), they appear. When he sleeps he doesn’t see anything: his rest is so complete that he never remembers; moreover, his visions have textures radically different from those of dreams: incomplete scenes, lattices, images, smells and sounds, music, from places never seen.

If he had the skills of Lacandros, he would invent stories. But his visions haven’t enough significance, and just the intention of embellishing them with details makes them vanish even faster. In fact, without that kind of help, they usually evaporate as quickly as they have come.

That isn’t what is happening right now.

Like a burst. Again, his mind makes him smell the sea, makes him hear the familiar arpeggio; it floods him with dark blue. He has closed his eyes just a moment while he is kissing Ladia, and the salt has mixed with her warm saliva, the brightness of the stars mixes with the last glitter of her honey iris, the hard soil of stone of the cliff mixes with their tongues and teeth that rub each other delicately.

He also sees the black plain that he is supposed to cross to reach the cliff, mistaken for a long caress of his tongue on Ladia’s lips. This time he discerns it more clearly, but all the rest slips away in the inevitable, faded trail when he moves his face away and opens his eyes.

“I love you above all else,” he asserts after a pause.

Ladia offers him a smile as immense as the sky where all the heavenly bodies shine. They kiss again.

 

Sergeant

When the night came to the desert, he lifted his eyes to the sky. He had no problem identifying the stars, locating systems, stellar crossroads, hundreds of deceleration belts, and thousands, millions of beacons whose positions were safely stored in his memory. He clearly relived the advance of the troops, the gracious chaos of commerce, the delicate social plots of religions and the ultrasciences that evolved up there. He projected all of this onto his brain, more sharply than his eyes would have. He felt good.

Hades was buried in the ground, behind him, rocked by the waves that hit the reefs.

 

Lègere | Lerohgah

Did you recognise the figure of someone… alive in your visions?

The Long Thorn emerges from the fresh grass meadow in all its splendor, rising to the sky along with the Small Thorns, making a perfect triangle. The lower levels of the Long Thorn spout the smoky clouds and glitters produced by the apprentices. Nothing spouts from the few windows opened like eyes in the higher part of the building. Everything looks as usual.

Lègere hurries without getting rid of his thoughts: no, he doesn’t recognise the figure of anyone who is alive. Not yet. The vision that has plagued him for days only contains him and the night, him and the stars. And an absurdly black plain. But that doesn’t mean that no one will appear someday: the black plain wasn’t there at the beginning, and other things could enrich the story as well. It seems that it is going to have time for that since the vision insists on flooding his head.

Like now.

Like a burst. He walks in a scrubland accompanied by the murmur of the wind through the bushes. He stumbles over the rocks and at the same time feels the hardness of the steps as he walks up the stairs of the Long Thorn, into the real world. He sees himself resting under the shadows of the dried-up trees and later at night, covering up warmly with his clothes. The indigo night cloak caresses him with a thousand twinkling stars and a pinch of music. The waves make themselves heard, no, it is the music, no, it is the sea, no, the music, no, the sea, no, it is

When he enters the studio Lerohgah gets distracted and stops playing the keys of the rock crystal. The music dissolves in Lègere’s head, so he isn’t able to discern whether this happened before or after opening his eyes, and he also cannot remember what his body was actually doing as he walked up the stairs. The last fringes of a familiar trail disappear from his mind.

“I’ve just had it again.”

“Anyone…”

“Nobody.”

“…?”

“A scrubland as a novelty. The rest stays the same. A black-soiled plain. The cloak of the night, the stars above the cliff, and the sea. And a strange music.”

“Like the one I was composing?”

“A little different.”

“I see.”

He sits down on a heap of books while Lerohgah holds a scroll out to him. Lègere unrolls it and immediately recognises its red characters. He reviews it right away: it is taught in the first courses, so he knows it by heart. He looks at Lerohgah quietly.

“There is not,” the elderly man corroborates.

No, he knows there is no other way out. Now it is a matter of deciding. It is just that he is so tired. And much more when he thinks of getting Ladia involved.

Like a burst…

 

Sergeant

The ruined armor of a comrade now served as a lock in the seventy-fifth corridor inside Hades. He finished welding and hit it carefully to check for structural damage through the sound. There seemed to be no internal cracks. Good.

He jumped to the ground to recover pieces for the beams. Among the remains left by the landing and the subsequent explosion, he thought he could find metallic sheets, servos, adaptive boxes, and universal panels. With those elements it would just be a matter of patience and knack, as the Brothers would say.

He considered that. Recently he was starting to remember the Brothers of his comrades and, more specifically, his Brother. That awakened a strange void that impelled him to move his huge body even more, to make more effort, to reconstruct faster, to speed up his rhythm. That was because there were no more Brothers yet. They all died in the crash, disappeared without a trace: they hadn’t had enough time to join him and his comrades to protect themselves from the collision. His very Brother had died. He hadn’t even bothered to search for his body among the twisted remains of the fuselage.

He worked hard for the rest of the day.

 

At night, he stood still on top of the cliff. The shapeless structure of Hades rose behind him, on the border of the desert, waiting for him to continue the repairs. But although he didn’t feel incapable of going on, he preferred, without knowing how or why, to stay right there, motionless, idle.

The sea breeze caressed him. The water made the stars cast sparkles onto every curve, every fold of his enormous body. He would have to dry it off later, although he wasn’t much worried about it. Instead, he focused on remembering the musical instrument that his Brother sometimes played. That instrument had flooded the air with its sound, and despite the fact that he wasn’t able to appreciate it, he was able to see the subtle change it produced in the expressions of the Brothers, and how that became a global change that spread a feeling of empathy throughout the group. When he thought about his inability to play a part in something like that, he again felt the strange void.

Finally, he stopped thinking at all and just focused on exposing himself to the night breeze, to cool down.

 

Lègere | Ladia

“And you have decided to leave,” Ladia’s sad eyes say, driving a stake directly into his heart.

“I need…”

“No. You are right, this is what you must do. It is what we want you to do. Both of us make the decisions. Both of us know that you have a gift that you must learn to use: you must learn from your visions.”

The brilliance on a spider’s web makes a rainbow to her right and behind, on the border of the forest, between two Oblivion Bushes. He feels guilty for paying attention to the beautiful picture that nature traces behind Ladia’s smooth shoulder.

“… to go in order to become Oak someday,” he manages to finish. “If I do not, I will remain Moss forever.”

“Is that what you are worried about?”

“I am capable of staying Moss forever. Is that what you are worried about?”

“I don’t want to live with an Oak so stupid that he stays Moss.”

Her lips begin to form a smile. That also hurts, maybe because everything hurts now, but of course, much less.

“What would you do if you only had made-up stories, senseless stories, to tell your children?” Her smile gets bigger. “No, I want you to go; and to come back, I want you to come back, do you hear me? And I want you to sow your seed in this peasant, my man.”

“You are getting sandy.”

They turn back to the soft, infinite beach. Their cheeks touch. The sun is setting very slowly behind them, on the other unexplored, dark end of the world, and almost unwillingly. Ladia begins to undo his shirt.

 

Sergeant

He lifted a ton of scrap with just one hand, throwing it tens of meters away where it wouldn’t be in the way. He didn’t pay attention to the thunder, the ball of sand that it produced, or to the surrounding silence that came later, when the animals from the desert fell silent. He continued on, concentrated, his head filled with his work.

Little scrap remained to be cleared. He had reused most of it thanks to the recycler, almost intact, that one of his comrades (the one of the structures-engineer Brother) had when he was alive. He didn’t remember his name.

Now, the surface of Hades rose to the sky. It had a soft and at the same time grotesque texture, silky and metallic, shedding few sun rays since its very nature lay in absorbing, just absorbing everything. It was empty, much more empty than himself, unbearably empty; it just was a defenseless oval shape now, capriciously lying on the border of the great desert, close to the cliffs, because of an accident that should never have occurred. The huge egg, greyish and dirty, was supported by three large pneumatic beams, which did their work properly, although they weren’t completely synchronised. The internal structure of Hades wasn’t wholly restored yet, but soon it would be more than just an inert shell. He felt a new urge to achieve his goal.

Actually, this wasn’t the only issue. Every so often he got distracted for a moment and imagined that someone from the other end of the desert arrived, someone like his disappeared Brother. He imagined that they were together again and finished, among other things, the failed mission that had taken them there so long ago. Those thoughts didn’t last long: they intensified his feeling of void, obstructing his work; therefore, he erased them.

 

Lègere | Sergeant

Lègere had discerned a forest in his vision before leaving home. In the real world, the forest was travelled a long time ago, but he had forgotten it until now.

He believes that these gaps in his memory are produced by the dryness on his lips; he notices layers of thin dry skin when he brushes them with his tongue. Furthermore, he cannot moisten them too much; the gesture only serves to cause him pain and make him more thirsty. But it is an instinct, it is unavoidable.

On the other hand, the memory gaps could also be caused by the pain in his eyelids, which are surely swollen by the sun. He hasn’t found water where he might observe their appearance, but he knows that they are very inflamed and the pain caused by the brushing when they try to clean his eyes, another unavoidable instinct, also inflames the nerves that cross his brain, causing him to forget things.

The gaps could also be the result of the burning in his feet, that move mechanically, involuntarily, insisting that he continues to pursue an absurd, ridiculous vision that began an eternity ago on fresh grass, at his refreshing dew home, when he believed that it would be a vision like any other he had had in his life, and not a curse sent to him from the abyss of the dead.

No! Again!

Like a burst. In his head, the cool of a non-existent star-studded night wraps a huge, grey egg up, surely planted in the sand by some giant Eye Bird. The throbbing lattice of its membrane splits inside the egg while the burning days come and the frozen nights go. An arpeggio pulls from his heart towards the cliffs in his mind, threading a precious melody with the rumor of the sea and the splashing of the waves against the rocks; it pulls like an infinite chain anchored in the bottom of the sea and going through the desert until it gets stuck there. But this time, his vision does not last much longer: soon everything starts to dissolve, even the music. He resists, fights with all his might. He presses the dry skin of his lips with his tongue, closes his eyelids mercilessly, crushes the mass of burning sand with his sore feet, trying to make all the pain stop the advance of the invisible world-size finger that strives to drag the imaginary pigments away. He presses down, presses down, crushes. In spite of the pain and his effort, the vision still shows the black-soiled plain: an ellipse-shaped area near the grey egg that blocks the way to the egg since it is in the only path that leads to the cliffs, surrounded by inaccessible rocks and bottomless ravines in the flesh of the desert. Although he tries to press down more and crush much more, in the end the plain also dissolves by combining its intense black, mixture of all the colors, with the amalgam that drags away in the trail of his imagination. The last thing he thinks he has seen, exhausted, is a blurred figure near the black plain. Perhaps it is he himself.

When he opens his eyes at last, separates his lips, and lifts his feet, which takes him a lifetime and provokes a heartbreaking shout that gets lost in the uneasy air of the scrubland, he begins to doubt whether he can reach that remote place someday.

If that place even exists.

 

After a time, Lègere doesn’t know if he is himself or a dream, himself or something imagined by some other, himself or a joke of the gods, but the fact is that his feet haven’t stopped and finally he has reached the border of the black-soiled plain. He wishes his feet would stop; he doesn’t understand how he can still inhale air, sweat, not stray from the path that his vision traced out. But his wishes are something pathetic inside his body, minute seeds of grass prepared to stay enclosed in their tiny shells for centuries, until the drought that devastates the world turns into spring.

So he carries on. He notes with curiosity the mechanical and tottering walk of his feet, the footprints that they leave on the dark soil, a soil of that odd color that he almost never saw at home except at night. As he goes on, always looking down because he hasn’t the strength to lift his head, he starts to feel a new pain, which is welcomed kindly in his head since it will keep the other ones company: the one in his mouth, the one in his eyelids, the one in his legs, and the one in his spirit, which feels more and more lonely amongst so much physical hardship. The new one has a different texture from the others. He isn’t able to locate which part of his body produces it. It is like a little sun within that is burning him gradually, very slowly. It is now just an ordinary guest, but it aspires to become the sole inhabitant inside him, to leave him burnt and to disappear at the end when his body falls to the ground like an empty skin.

He hopes such a time will indeed come.

Now he is hardly aware of the parts of his vision that are becoming true. His steps succeed one another across the black plain. He doesn’t hear them, like he hasn’t heard almost anything for a long time. They succeed one another, one, two, three, his last strength focused on reaching the end as soon as possible, four, five, before the new pain grows, six, seven.

He loses count. At the one millionth step, more or less, a small cloud of ochre dust rises. He falls.

 

His pupils allow the light to enter one last time. Although he believes that they do it unwillingly, as a last attempt to say goodbye to his world, he realizes that the awakening has been caused by the sound of steps approaching. He doesn’t consider this something important: nothing is more important than dying and fleeing definitively. It is just that a little curiosity remains.

Thus, he realises that that is the vital essence that has supported him since he was born. Some men are supported by courage. Others by love. He, by curiosity.

The steps get closer until something blocks his view. The feet are enormous. And black as coal.

 

Sergeant | Lègere

He ran into a person dying on the border of the black plain. He got closer, but suddenly had to stop. That person had opened and closed his eyes unbearably, slowly, in a way hardly perceptible, incomprehensible, then moved one of his skinny, sun-reddened feet very slightly, pushing a small heap of sand with the slowness of a glacier, as though his muscles were tough titanium blocks that had to overcome a thousand gravities. If this were an inhabitant of the planet, it wouldn’t be difficult to complete his damned mission.

But then a little rodent jumped over the person. That awakened an inner spark that made him take a defensive posture, to protect himself from any possible threat. It took him a few seconds to gain control of his rational reactions and relax his body again. It had been a primary, instinctive reaction: the rodent was the first moving being that he had seen for a long time, maybe because now he only paid attention to his work, day and night, without rest, for an infinite number of days and nights.

When he was relaxed, he could observe the rodent, and what he saw provoked even stranger thoughts: the animal had spent several seconds jumping, moving through the air as though the air were a thick piece of butter. He again recalled all his sensations during that time and readied himself for some mental arithmetic. At the same time, he evaluated the possibility of responding to any aggression. He guessed that danger was unlikely, and therefore, he stood up, thinking, near the almost dead man and the rodent that was already moving away, slowly like the passage of seasons.

 

Lègere | Sergeant

Lègere opens his eyes for a second time. The huge black feet are still there. He tries to utter a word, but no sound arises from his throat. He doesn’t know where he finds the courage, but he manages to hold part of his body apart from the burning soil of the desert and raise his head a little towards the mirage that casts a shadow on him.

What is before him is enormous, a huge spot with the silhouette of a person, but with odd joints, bulges, and hollows. The sun shines through chinks located at absurd places along its form.

That thing moves. Very quickly, it hurts to follow. Then, it moves again, a little, slightly slower. A new stirring, even slower. Until its electrical movements turn into smooth steps at a human speed. It is approaching. When it is close, he tries to communicate with words that emerge from his brain without his consent.

“W… wat… water…”

As the sole answer, the size of the weird giant changes as if it had spread huge wings. It had not appeared to be a winged creature. Then it jumps and eats him in a second.

 

Sergeant | Lègere

Now he moved at a completely normal speed and already knew the cause of his previous slowness: he had worked on Hades for too long, so some part of his mind had decided, unconsciously, to increase his metabolism as it used to do in situations of great stress. Perhaps that had been done by Hades, although he wasn’t sure of that since Hades had acquired awareness not long ago. Anyway, of course, he didn’t care about that at all.

He had found somebody to replace his Brother. He had made the decision in a microsecond.

The dying man was making a great effort to sit up and he even tried to speak, but no words came through.

Sergeant opened wide, but this time it was not to let the breeze to cool him down. His metallic body, completely hollow, exposed the symbiotic chamber. His brain pulsated to the rhythm of deranged quartz. His transparent nerves transmitted light signals all over his limbs, all over his shell, getting ready.

And he incorporated the dying man, wrapping him up and starting the repair-adaptation process, which produced great pleasure.

 

Sergeant and Lègere and Hades

Hades welcomed them aboard. The symbiont answered her without paying much attention: he was still enduring the adaptation process. Lègere, so to speak, still existed much as an individual entity.

His current physical body was called Sergeant. That was the strange expression the thing had used to refer to itself when it explained some details about its functions and the way Lègere should perceive them from the inside. However, since he felt almost dead in the desert, he wasn’t able to perceive anything except a world of mist; he existed there only as thoughts and not physically. Or better, his physique existed separately from his mind. It was something difficult to understand.

Lègere was missing some things and the longing made him uncomfortable. For example, his visions: no more bursts. He had assumed he would find the cliff at last and would sleep under the starry cloak of night (despite the fact that it seemed like nonsense to achieve something so insignificant in a journey of such magnitude, so far from home, with the hope of being promoted to Oak. And being worthy of Ladia). It would have been so satisfying to make that dream come true; however, now he felt empty and confused. Nobody should have eaten him.

The egg that had a personality called Hades vibrated slightly. He noticed it through Sergeant’s body, a hard, rigid but articulated bulk of precise and powerful movements. They were both within Hades, and surely the egg had ascended: a moment earlier, he thought he heard they were going to fly. He was able to perceive everything through Sergeant’s body now, his new body, and he would even say that he perceived everything more clearly, as if his old body would have been an obstacle.

Actually, he didn’t just feel part of the self called Sergeant. Hades also shared their weird communion. In fact, Lègere’s perception had become a kaleidoscope that he was trying to revolve around its axis to find a position where he could understand all.

 

Sergeant felt the slight movements of his new Brother within him. He liked them. Now that Hades was reasonably repaired, they could finish their mission. He set out eastward.

 

Eastward. Lègere listened to the idea and it brought sounds from home, smells from the hills, the song of birds.

Lègere did not know how long they sailed. He paid no attention to the passing of time, but continued to search for the proper turn for the kaleidoscope within his tripartite mind. For an instant, he believed that he had moved one of Sergeant’s fingers solely with his will.

 

No.

Hades was standing over the hills, casting her oval shadow on the fresh grass covered by dew.

No.

Sergeant made calculations together with Hades in order to drive something somewhere. The calculations were complete. Sergeant released the energy.

No.

The Long Thorn, whose thin and elongated shadow sometimes caressed the waves of the western sea at dusk, blew into pieces, scattering smoke and splinters all over the place, falling then to the ground like the masticated backbone of a fish.

Lerohgah.

Lègere’s thoughts entered a merciless turmoil that spun for an eternity. He couldn’t find the proper perspective of things, the perspective that would mean this wasn’t happening. He turned the kaleidoscope round and round, seeing the colors and shapes, the voices of Hades and Sergeant interwoven with his own perceptions. He felt absorbed as if the substance of his brain was being extracted and used to destroy what he loved the most.

Hades opened part of her round belly. Sergeant jumped, making a depression in the soil where he fell, but his bulk emerged intact from the hole, the humid, smelly humus coming off from the dark hot surface of the armor.

Sergeant seemed to follow a predefined trajectory. Lines of light and heat gushed from his arms as it passed through the people; a box raised in his back (Lègere perceived it like a new movement within his body, although his body had never had that sort of mobility), which started to hurl long and smouldering fish-shaped things that got buried in the buildings and exploded within. Red lights mingled with the smell of blood and the color of death. Lègere saw many acquaintances falling under the implacable feet of his own body: it was he who was causing all of this, no, it was Sergeant and Hades. No, it was he, who lent his life to Sergeant for this purpose.

“Cleared area.”

The grave voice of Sergeant mixed with the terrible sight of the field, which was filled with the corpses and burnt bones of the Thorns. But that wasn’t right. In his vision from so long ago, an arpeggio should accompany a placid scene covered by the cloak of night, with the flickering stars, washed down with the rumor of the sea at the base of the cliffs. His vision had been transformed into a horrifying end to the world. And there had been no more bursts. His heart was broken into a thousand steaming, rancid bits. He wanted to go out of there.

“We will now clear sector southeast eleven. Percentage of mission completed: eighty-two. Orbital connection: setting up. Reinforcements: not advised.”

The voices of Hades and Sergeant interwove in a confusing way. Sergeant’s feet crushed the grass, sinking the humid soil. Green light beams traced geometric nets on the ground, emitted by Hades from above to lead their way in the killing.

Lègere felt himself dying for the second time when he saw the body of Ladia on the ground. A hole with red and black edges was opened in her flesh, the brightness of the frost and the green of the grass clearly visible through it.

No.

Decisive. Definitive.

 

Lègere | Ladia

Like a burst.

Finally, the long-awaited night arrives and all the colors disappear from his mind. They are replaced by the stars and the rumor of the gentle sea that strokes the beach. He feels the moisture on his lips. For some reason, he is afraid of losing that vision, he insists on listening to the arpeggio and feeling the intimate power of the sand under his body. He feels the moisture on his lips again. He remembers everything at last. His vision, now complete.

He watches himself in the past as he leaves his love to depart towards the unknown. Walking through the scrubland, through the desert, through the black-soiled plain, falling into the mists of death to be devoured by a hollow creature in an instant. He sees a big egg moving across the sky, taking him back home with his worst enemy, flying over the Thorns that have emerged from the earth, sweetly sculpted and polished by the Ancient Masters. He sees the egg regurgitating light and fire, destroying everything, burning the ground. He sees all of that as if he were outside, far away, now.

He listens to the arpeggio, sharper than before, and it fits with the booming steps of the huge, black metal, giant-shaped bulk that steps on his friends and relatives, spewing death and desolation all around. He again feels the moisture in his mouth and thinks he can distinguish the salty taste of blood.

Finally, he decides to open his eyes and frighten away that last vision. The lips of Ladia move away, carrying the moisture with them. The invisible finger of his imagination presses softly, dissolving everything once more and leaving only the familiar blue and black trail. But now it is red and painful too.

After a moment he remembers. And he smiles. Everything has passed, he has come back home after pursuing his vision to the other end of the world. And it has finished. The vision, unbearably painful and well-defined, pushed by an imaginative force that he never thought he could harbor, so terribly close to reality, is complete. He is back at home. In the real world.

Ladia stares at him with her honey eyes. She smiles, opening the sky.

“You are going to be late for your graduation ceremony, dear Mister Oak.”

Original title: „El Caleidoscopio del Aprendiz“

First ublished in 2001,  number 4

Copyright © 2001 by Juan Antonio Fernández Madrigal

Juan Antonio Fernández Madrigal was born in 1970. Currently he is PhD in Computer Science and associate profesor at the University of Malaga. He shares my time (more or less evenly) between research in intelligent robotics, teaching, and other creative works (literature is the main one, but he also does some illustration works). He has published two sf novels (one of them in the professional market: Umma, recently released) and about fifty stories in diverse media (magazines, e-magazines, etc.) in the sf and fantasy genres.

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