“SHARDS!” FIRE licked up Nix’s leg, jerking him awake. He kicked the silver mycra blanket his mother had brought back from a trip to Sona IV to the floor. Something bit at his thigh?
A bang at his sleep-room door echoed through the room.
He opened his mouth to answer, but agony stole his words. Sweat broke out all over his body as the wicked heat devoured him.
The privacy code to the room must have been overridden because the door slammed open. Someone rushed to his side. “Lights!”
“Mom.” Nix writhed in anguish as the bright light burned his eyes. He moaned and waved to his leg.
“What in K’Dane is wrong?” His mother tried to shift his robe out of the way, but the fabric tangled.
The pain swirled on top of his skin. “My leg! My leg! It’s on fire! Ow!” He jumped off his sleepfoam and yanked open his robe to expose his thigh.
“Nix? What’s—No! The mark? It can’t be!”
He stared down at the mark. The pain evaporated like it was never there. Excitement, pride, and shock fought for dominance. He exhaled in amazement and plopped back onto the sleepfoam. He was marked. “Galaxy!”
With a long tail surrounded by flames fluttering around his calf, a multicolored, multidimensional bird etched its way along his thigh.
“Look, Mother, look!” He turned his leg to see the entire imprint. The bird seemed to take flight.
His mother collapsed onto the hard stone floor at his feet and stared at his leg. “No! How can this be! You’re still a boy. No! You’re only fourteen full seasons. No!”
Did this mean… “Am I one of the elite? Does this mark make me one of the Chosen?”
His mother wiped at tears running down her cheeks. “The mythical bird appears only on one of the Chosen.”
“It’s a miracle.” Nix couldn’t imagine himself as one of the Chosen. He wasn’t worthy, but without question he’d devote himself to the betterment of the Xantha galaxy through the creation of dimensional art. He could create art with the potential to change the hearts and minds of the citizens who viewed it, art that allowed people to see beyond themselves to the whole. Dimensional art had been credited with stopping wars, building alliances, and making people thrive in the Xantha galaxy.
He had planned to apply through the Ambrosial monastery’s usual acceptance process. They took artists able to create third-dimensional art, and he’d shown consistent ability to do fourth-dimensional work.
But the bird branded him as one of the Chosen through mystical intervention. Or maybe it was what his older sister claimed it was: in vitro manipulation. No one was sure. Nix didn’t care! He needed no admissions process. It was done.
“I’m to be an Ambrosial monk.” This was a fulfillment of a dream. He’d always loved painting, but during this past season his talent for morphing dimensional artistry went beyond any of the master artists at his learning space.
“No!” His mother wept and clutched at his leg. “My poor baby.”
What? No. He slid to the floor and knelt next to her. “Mother, it’s an honor to be among the Chosen.”
She squeezed her eyes shut and pulled him close. He inhaled her light, flowery perfume. His mother always smelled the same—when she bandaged his cuts, when she wiped his tears, and when she stood next to him when his fathers were jetted off for their eternal rest. Her scent meant stability and that everything would be okay even if right now the universe spun out of control.
His mother sighed. “I know, but you won’t have the normal life of a K’Dane citizen. You won’t have mates or children, and you’ll be stuck devoting your entire life to the service of the galaxy’s art.”
She hushed him and petted his hair. “Ah, the geneticists were good, carrying out Xantha’s royally decreed skin-tone conformity as if that would ensure the planets of the Xantha system fuse into one. K’Dane followed the letter of the law, though I can see your fathers in you. You’re a combination of both their handsome faces, same almond-shaped brown eyes as Dam, your hair has the exact wave that Brodit had, though your skin is a touch deeper bronze than either of them…. You know, before you were born, they both wore their wavy, tawny hair down to their shoulders just like you….” She sniffled. “And now you’ll leave me too… like them!”
“Only to study at the monastery. But not until I’m eighteen full seasons old.” Why was she worried? That’s a lifetime away.
“It’s too young to leave me.” Most children stayed within the same complex of living units as their families.
His new status meant his family would receive many benefits. Not that it was difficult, but since his fathers’ deaths, his mother needed to work additional hours. “You could cut back on labor hours.”
“I love my job.” She worked as a grief counselor. “It is very rewarding work, and I’m making a difference.”
“I know, but I bet we even get a larger monthly stipend. We’ll be able to move back to better housing.”
“We came here to be closer to your sister. We don’t need more spending credits.” His mother looked right and left and lowered her voice. “Maybe you don’t want to let anyone—”
“Mother! Do not speak of such a thing.” He cut off her mutinous idea. She was distraught. Not thinking clearly.
She blew her nose. “I wish one of your fathers was still with us.”
His mother had been so besotted with her life mates that she never rebonded after she lost both of them in a transport accident. They had been good fathers, and they doted on Nix and his older sister.
Nix missed both of them every day. “I wish my fathers were alive too. But I’m happy you’ll receive the honor and benefits of giving a son to the monastery.”
“I’d rather keep you all to myself.” His mother sounded like his older sister when she was in a mood.
“But, Mother, we can holo picture each other all the time, and I don’t have to go anyplace for many seasons.”
“I can’t hug a hologram.” She frowned.
Lacking a better idea, he tightened his arms around her. Life had gotten complicated. He allowed himself to sink into the safety of her arms and absorb the last bits of his childhood.
“I guess you’re not my little Nix-Nix anymore. I think your fathers must have known.”
“What?” He pulled back and gathered the silver bedding to spread back over his sleepfoam.
His mother straightened the fabric, smoothed out a corner, tucked his pillows into the covering, and then waved for him to follow. She led him to the family study they rarely used. Their locked inlaid-pearl chest stood between the two floor-to-skylight windows. The family heirloom contained all their family documents, records, and deeds and had been in his mother’s family for eons.
She touched her finger to the lock pad and the chest drawers slid open. She shut all the drawers except the middle one and took out a folder labeled Phoenix “Nix” Dotir.
He skimmed over the document inside and stared for a moment. “My real name is Phoenix?”
“Yes, that was what your fathers wanted to name you.” She sighed like the admission hurt, but stardust, that didn’t dampen his excitement. He was a Phoenix!
“So, I don’t have to make the formal petition to change my name?” Most of the Chosen needed to add Phoenix to their name.
“No, I think you need to present this at your learning space, and your records will change to reflect your ascension.” Her scrunched face warned of more crying.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You may not have been marked. It was unclear. Your potential was there but—”
“Mother, please. Be happy for me.” He hugged her tight. They were almost the same size.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m proud of you. I am… I just….” She stepped back, ruffled his hair, and returned his hair to rights.
“I know, but think of the differences I might make. Wars have been averted with the art that has come out of the monastery.”
Didn’t she understand how important his work would be? He’d have an opportunity to change the galaxy. He’d join the countless artists of the galaxy before him and make a true difference.
“My sweet boy, I understand how dimensional art has the ability to alter minds and hearts, which can direct individual action. I’m aware of all the great and wonderful things it has brought to Xantha, especially to those planets closely linked to Viking Haven. But it’s not….”
Maybe she didn’t understand. “Our trade war ended with Seaglory when the negotiators witnessed the work Harmonious Deliberations. Art allowed both sides to see reason. Tolerance and Love stopped K’Dane’s internal battles between districts. And the monks’ work has attracted new planets to join with Xantha, with incredible resources, which make our star system even stronger. You’ve seen so many of the great things art can do.”
“I’m going to be a part of that, Mother. Me! Someone who will devote themselves totally to the betterment of our people.” He couldn’t hide his thrill at having been selected to join this elite group of artists.
“I have no doubt. Your art will change the world.”
“What, then?” He clutched the folder to his chest.
“Not all planets under Xantha’s shield appreciate the benefits. Some barely contain their warring factions. Look at Feri. They’ve been part of Xantha for over sixty seasons, but their leaders refuse to educate or protect their own people against the planet’s radiation, and the lords of Viking Haven do nothing.”
Sixty whole seasons? That was a long time, but there must be reasons. He waved her off. Maybe when he got to sixth-dimensional level his work would change Feri’s course. “That will come in time.”
“Oh, you are so young.” She wrapped an arm around him and guided him back to his room.
“I’m not.” He hated it when she treated him like he was a baby. He wasn’t.
She tucked a bit of hair behind his ear. “Not everyone will see your ability as a good thing. Some people will be afraid of you, and fear makes people do bad things.”
“You just need to be careful, Nix.” She sighed. “I always imagined you being bonded to life mates… I wanted so much for you. That mark on your leg ruins all my dreams for you.”
Nix never believed physical and emotional bonding was meant for him. “I don’t need life mates, Mother. Art is my love.”
“Oh, Nix. I hope art will be enough to make you happy.” She touched her lips to his forehead and left his room, sniffling.
“It needs to be,” he said to himself.
Even though the time was too early to be awake, he’d never sleep now. He pulled his robe aside and hopped over to the reflection glass. Midnight black outlined the bird. Its deep wine-colored body was set off by the teal, sage, azure, coral, rose, honey gold, and violet of the rainbow wings. The colors were vibrant and the detail exact as the bird took dimensional flight. Incredible.
He glanced around his room. The space seemed smaller now than when he went to sleep. He’d gone to his sleepfoam hopeful and woken up one of the Chosen. And his name was Phoenix. Not plain old Nix, but Phoenix.
Phoenix hurried to his clothing port, which wasn’t jam-packed and overflowing like his sister’s. He scanned the various robes he had. It didn’t matter which one he grabbed, his mother had all of them treated with an antistain coating. She’d been doing so since he was old enough to hold a paintbrush.
He chose a loose-fitting, plain tangerine robe, slipped on the soft fabric, and donned burnt-orange leggings. He hung his sleep robe in the cleaning unit. Since he wasn’t leaving his living quarters, he wouldn’t bother with boots.
After preparing his paints he tapped his thigh, which now only tingled a little. Imagine! He was one of the Chosen!
The spectrum of colors invisible to most danced onto the stark whiteness of the canvas with universal energy. Only a couple of his art teachers appeared to recognize what whirled around on blank spaces but seemed lost on everyone else.
Would the ruler of the entire star system appreciate his work? Was it possible that his creations might be seen on the capital planet, Viking Haven, and maybe even across the entire star system of Xantha in unique and wonderful ways?
All the questions silenced. There was just his brush, paint, and the potential of color.