Authors: Kevin Hardman
Kid Sensation Series
Coronation (A Kid Sensation Novel)
The Warden Series
The Fringe Worlds
If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”
This book is a work of fiction contrived by the author, and is not meant to reflect any actual or specific person, place, action, incident or event. Any resemblance to incidents, events, actions, locales or persons, living or dead, factual or fictional, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Kevin Hardman.
Cover Design by Isikol
Edited by Faith Williams, The Atwater Group
This book is published by I&H Recherche Publishing.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information, address I&H Recherche Publishing, P.O. Box 1586, Cypress, TX 77410.
Printed in the U.S.A.
I would like to thank the following for their help with this book: GOD, who continues to shower me with blessings; my loving family; and my readers, who have been very kind with their praise and compliments.
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I stood on the observation deck of a starship, staring out at the vastness of space. We had been traveling through the void for the better part of two weeks, and were finally nearing our destination: Caeles – my maternal grandmother Indigo’s homeworld. It was a planet I had been summoned to by royal edict, although thus far no one had been able to tell me why.
The deck itself was a large, semi-circular room whose most dominant feature was the large observation plates set in the exterior wall – huge panes of what I had initially assumed to be glass, but later learned were actually some form of transparent metal. As usual, those members of the ship’s crew present in the room had cleared out after I entered; it still felt weird to have that sort of deference shown to me, but – no matter how much I pleaded to be treated no differently than anyone else – everyone still seemed to timidly kowtow to me. (In fact, my requests to be treated like a “normal” person only served to make them more nervous.)
That said, I didn’t have the room completely to myself. On my left stood Berran, the courier from my grandmother’s planet who had come to fetch me from Earth. Tall and pale, with pointed elfin ears like all my grandmother’s people, he wore a blue-gold uniform that appeared to be an unusual blend of both cloth and metal. (I wore regalia made of similar material myself, although of a much finer grade and adorned with unique insignia specifying my status and pedigree.)
On my right was Sloe – a massive robot constructed of pitch-black metal. Roughly humanoid in shape, he stood over seven feet tall and had long, extendable arms that ended in four-fingered hands capable of crushing steel. He also had the unenviable task of serving as my factotum: tutor, valet, guardian, and much more. He followed me just about everywhere, which I had initially complained about vociferously, but was told that it was standard procedure for members of the royal family to have such automatons assigned to them when abroad – for protection, if nothing else.
My insistence that I didn’t really need protection had fallen on deaf ears, and Sloe was now my new BFF. To assuage my displeasure over having him dog my every step, I had been allowed to rename him, so his current moniker actually came from me (and was far better than his original designation in my grandmother’s tongue-twisting native language.)
With that thought, I involuntarily reached up to touch the crown sitting on my head. It was a coronet made of some unknown but precious metal, encrusted with jewels. Between it and the livery, I felt like some foppish aristocrat, and under ordinary circumstances I would never have worn anything like it. As it was, however, the crown served an additional purpose: aside from making me look like an egotistical popinjay, it also functioned as a translation device and language-learning module.
For most of the trip, I’d had a small, inconspicuous device tucked into my right ear – an alien earbud of sorts, wirelessly connected to the crown I wore. Whenever someone spoke to me in my grandmother’s language, the gizmo translated their words into English. At the same time, however, the crown was sending minute electrical impulses into my head, rewiring the synapses in my brain. This was intended to help me learn the lingo faster (and for the most part it was successful), but when I first heard about what it would do, I completely freaked. It took my mentor Mouse – the smartest person I knew – to talk me off the ledge and convince me to even touch the thing, let alone wear it.
“You’re getting all excited about nothing,” Mouse had said after examining the coronet.
“Oh, really?” I’d replied. “Then why don’t you sign up to have a couple of gigawatts shot through
“You’re being childish; this thing is incapable of generating enough power to be dangerous. Besides, you already know that the human brain produces electrical impulses on its own. Electrical signals pass through synapses – the connections between brain cells – all the time.”
“Yeah, but those are electrical signals spawned by my
. They’re homegrown – not generated by some alien doohickey.”
“Well, your body won’t be able to tell the difference. Right now, every time an electrical impulse goes from brain cell to brain cell, the synapse between them is stimulated. Over time, the continued stimulation causes the neural pathways in your brain to become hardwired. This causes your ability to do certain things to become easier, more efficient. Almost instinctive in some instances.”
“Like driving on the right side of the road.”
“Exactly. Once that concept becomes rooted in your brain, it’s extremely difficult to modify your thoughts and behavior.”
“So people used to driving on the right side of the road will have a hard time adjusting when they go someplace where you’re supposed to drive on the left.”
Mouse had nodded. “And it’s the same with languages. Over time, your brain loses plasticity – the ability to change neural pathways and connections – so that learning to speak, say, French, becomes harder.”
“And that’s why kids can learn new languages easier than adults. Their brains aren’t completely hardwired yet.”
“Now you’re starting to understand. All this crown is going to do is stimulate the appropriate synapses so that learning your grandmother’s language will be faster and easier. Happy now?”
“I don’t know if ‘happy’ is the right word, but I’ll sleep a little better knowing that this thing won’t have any crazy side effects.”
A sheepish look had crept onto Mouse’s face at that moment. “Well…”
“What? Are you telling me there
Mouse had taken a second to clear his throat, then said, “There’s a very small chance – percentage-wise, way less than one percent – that your powers could be affected while your neural pathways are being rerouted.”
“There might be some temporary instability or cessation of certain abilities.”
“Are you kidding me??!!” I’d screeched, completely aghast. “You’re saying I might lose control of my powers, or lose them altogether?!”
“Look, based on the odds alone it’s unlikely to happen, and even if it did, it would only be temporary.”
“Doesn’t matter,” I’d said, shaking my head. “I’m not doing it.” I’d pointed at the crown. “I hope they kept the receipt, because that thing’s going back to the store unopened.”
“Okay, now you need to listen,” Mouse had said, turning deadly serious in a way that I seldom witnessed. “You’re taking a journey to an alien planet that is light-years from home, with no idea of what to expect when you get there. With the exception of perhaps your grandmother, Indigo, you can’t count on anyone to help you. You’ll have no friends, little family, and perhaps nothing you can rely on other than yourself. You can’t afford to be disadvantaged in any way, and not knowing the language is a huge handicap – an albatross that you can’t have hanging around your neck. Wearing this coronet is something you need to do, and if it causes a little blip in your powers, it’s just something you’ll have to live with.”
“Alright,” I’d said quietly, although still a little irked. “I’ll wear the stupid thing.”
“Stop making it sound like you’re being punished. It’s more the opposite, in fact, since this will probably help the development of your abilities.”
I’d frowned at that. “What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s pretty clear that you haven’t yet manifested your full slate of powers. More to the point, a good number of your talents are tied to cerebral function. In other words, you can control them consciously – you’re not walking around phased all the time or continuously invisible. It’s like there’s a giant on-off switch in your brain, giving you the discretion of when to use your powers. That’s a result of synaptic connections, which this crown will slightly modify.”
“So what are you saying? That when this thing starts rewiring my neural pathways, it may cause new abilities to materialize?”
“It’s not so much that it would give you new abilities. It’s more like these are powers that would eventually come to the fore, but it just hastens their development.”
“Wouldn’t that be a good thing?”
“It depends. Sometimes nature has her reasons for delaying things like this, and in your case it’s obvious.”
I’d shaken my head in confusion. “I’m not following you.”
“Think about it for a second. Would it really have benefited you to have your current power set as a baby? Imagine you teleported yourself out of your crib and into a swimming pool that you’d played in earlier. Or turned yourself invisible and then crawled out into traffic. Or phased yourself so that your mother couldn’t feed you. Or ma–”
“Okay. I get it. Being a seemingly normal baby was Mother Nature’s way of helping me survive.”
“Indeed. Now, on the flip side, someone like your brother Paramount – with physical gifts like super strength – had his powers manifest during infancy.”
“More like at the moment he was born,” I’d corrected.
“Yes, well, the point is that being practically impervious to harm is a survival trait, so it was to his benefit to have his power set develop as soon as possible. It doesn’t mean, perforce, that he got a better deal than you. It’s just nature’s way.”
“So,” I’d said, “the main takeaway from this conversation, for me, is to wear the idiotic crown. If it has some effect on my existing abilities, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and if it causes new powers to develop, that may not be a good thing.”
“Yeah,” Mouse had acknowledged with a nod. “But the way you say it, anyone would think you were being sent in front of a firing squad.”
And so I had ended up wearing the crown. To my great surprise, it worked as advertised: over the course of our two-week trip, I had become almost fluent in the Caelesian language. Even better, I hadn’t experienced any side effects (although, truth be told, I really hadn’t had occasion to use my powers while we were in transit).
At that moment, my thoughts were interrupted by Berran addressing me.
“Once again, I must apologize,
,” the courier said, addressing me by an honorific that meant sovereign, liege, commander, and about a dozen other imperial titles, although I tended to interpret them all as simply “Prince.” (In fact, I generally interpreted most of Caelesian words into their Terran equivalent – or the closest approximation.) “I did not mean to threaten your life or well-being. However, my poor grasp of your dialect–”
“Enough,” I said in exasperation. “You must have apologized to me a hundred times by now. It’s fine. You’re forgiven.”
“But, Prince–” he began.
“No ‘buts,’” I declared, cutting him off. “And so help me, if you apologize one more time, I’ll banish you.”
Berran looked horrified, and it suddenly occurred to me that I might actually have the power to banish him. (In which case, my little joke was probably being taken a lot more seriously than I realized.) That said, he had been apologizing almost every time he laid eyes on me because of an earlier miscommunication, and it was starting to grate.
Back on Earth, I’d spent about a week having the odd sensation that I was being followed, although I couldn’t find any evidence to support my suspicions. Of course, it was all proven to be true when Berran finally revealed himself. At that time, he’d also handed me a royal edict ordering me to return to my grandmother’s planet immediately “on pain of death.”
The threat of death, however, had turned out to be an exaggeration – or rather, a misinterpretation. In actuality, the threat was one of “eradication,” and it wasn’t intended to apply to my life. Instead, it was meant to convey the fact that, if I didn’t comply with the summons, my
would be eradicated – erased from the royal rolls. In other words, I would be stripped of my royal title and excommunicated (for lack of a better term) from that portion of my family.
In short, Berran had inadvertently (and unintentionally) threatened my life upon our first meeting, and he had been apologizing for the misunderstanding at almost every opportunity since then. Looking at him now, I could see that my threat of banishment had struck him like a punch in the gut. At the same time, I reached out towards him empathically. Initially, I’d had trouble deciphering the alien emotions of my grandmother’s people, but after a couple of weeks in close proximity to them, I’d become almost adept at it. At the moment, I felt the sincerity of Berran’s apology and how much he wanted to atone for his error.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I was out of line with the banishment comment.”
Berran inclined his head in submission. “It is your right, my Prince.”
“No, it isn’t,” I said, shaking my head. “I just want you to stop apologizing to me. It was an honest mistake.”
I tried to speak in as earnest a tone as possible. My grandfather had warned me before I left Earth to be judicious in my choice of words when addressing – for lack of a better term – “commoners” such as Berran, as they were likely to take anything I said (such as the threat of banishment) seriously. I had initially assumed he was exaggerating, but had since come to know better.
Reflecting on my grandfather’s words, my thoughts naturally turned to the last time I’d seen him. It had been right before Berran and I had left the planet, when my grandfather and mother had come to see me off. For most of my sixteen years, they had been the only family I’d known; my grandmother Indigo had left the planet long before I was born, and my father had only recently become a regular fixture in my life. As a result, Mom, Gramps, and I were very close, with a bond that was made all the stronger by the fact that all three of us were telepaths.
Communication between telepaths is far more complex than mere verbal conversation. It is an intricate mosaic consisting not only of words, but also concepts, images, emotions, and more. Thus, telepathically saying goodbye to my mother and grandfather (who were forbidden to take the trip with me) had gone far beyond a simple farewell; it had been an acute and profound experience, emotionally intensified by the fact that I didn’t know when I would see them again. (If my grandmother was any type of example, I could be gone for decades!)