University of California, Riverside

Eaton Science Fiction Conference



A New Sensibility, by Mark Biswas


 

Mark Biswas

Mark Biswas is a graduate student in comparative literature at UCR in the Science and Science Fiction track. His interests include the singularity, posthumanism, the function of science within SF, and political, psychological, and philosophical SF.
His story "A New Sensitivity" has won a Honorable Mention.

A New Sensibility

Joshua emerged from the suffocating tin can of a home and into the warming embrace of the storm. Sinking his bare feet into the gold sand for the first time, he let the scalding grains pierce his flesh. The thick, golden air formed a cocoon around him. It was the most comforting feeling in the world.
He stood there for a moment, his arms open wide, as the winds carried those grains around and around his arms.
If only Father could hold me like this.
Despite the sands swirling about his face, Joshua could perceive—he could see––the majestic spire in the horizon, the red and orange sandstone stunningly beautiful underneath the haze of the sun. It was a mother’s hand beckoning him home, a home as he had never known it. Here in this beautiful destructive, caressing force that was this wind, was true peace. Not in there, locked in the suffocating walls of fabricated metal sheets, crudely welded together in an unnatural abomination. Joshua smiled. Funny. They travel hundreds of light years to this place, only to live in the same manner to that of Earth. A manner incompatible with what this place is all about.
Out here…was an entirely different experience.
An electrified tingling sensation rippled throughout his body. The storm was getting fiercer, the sand barraging his face with increasing intensity. He smiled. It felt so good.
An electrical surge pushed the air behind his back.
He was being beckoned.
He stepped forward––
And fell at an odd angle, coming down on his right hand and it plunged beneath the sand. His mouth formed a large O, more out of confusion than alarm. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Why the sudden burning? Everything had been perfect just a moment before. This is where I am supposed to be! I do not understand! Help me! Help me!
But those he beckoned did not come.
His submerged hand remained cool. Perhaps he could find refuge under the sand. He began to dig. Quickly, frantically, like a dog.

As he waited for the gel electrophoresis to complete, Justin stared at the jellyavian laid out before him. He was pleased by it: neat and organized and not an organ out of place. If the round lumps of cells could be called organs. The outer skin was a rusted brown, the color of almost everything on this planet, and the insides were a light grey. Shaped like a Terran jellyfish, but rather than being elegant and mysterious, this was brutally ugly, as if it had been wrapped in a toad’s skin. Its tendrils were laid out before him, perfectly straight and ordered.
Justin was both repulsed and compelled by it. Biological, clearly an animal, but also disturbingly alien. That repulsed him. It wasn’t the cellular and molecular differences that he had already discovered––the lack of distinct mitochondria, subtle differences in the DNA structure or the lack of a few amino acids. If anything, he was surprised at how essentially the same everything seemed to be. No, it was here, at a larger scale, that something repulsed him. He couldn’t place a finger on it, and that frustrated him. It was ironic, too, because if he were able to take a specimen back to Earth, the layman would assume it was some sort of mutant jellyfish. It was that similar.
What compelled him was that the organism before him was a puzzle to solve. A challenge. He had all the pieces right here, before him, and it was only a matter of time before he fit them all together. The array of colored pins that marked organs and cavities remained unlabeled for the most part. Others, such as “Nerve Net??” revealed his doubt. But soon they would carefully be named, catalogued, and deciphered. He was sure of it.
It was time. He cut the electrophoresis current and carefully removed the agarose gel, gently placing it on the towel before him. The DNA bands, although alien, looked far more comprehensible than the specimen on the table.
Perhaps this was his way of combating that which was alien, he thought. He took what he knew most intimately––the tools of molecular biology––and used it as a weapon––
A piercing scream jolted him from his thoughts.
Joshua!
He bolted from the lab and checked his son’s room. The bed was empty.
Amy appeared at their bedroom doorway, hair tousled about her face. “Justin? Did I hear a scream?”
Then they heard it again, audible but muffled. It was coming from outside.
“Stay here,” he told her, running to the airlock.
“Justin, what’s going on? What are you doing? There’s a storm out there––”
He closed the inner airlock door behind him and grabbed his oxygen mask and goggles. He braced for the upcoming burst of wind.
The outer door opened.
The wind rammed into his chest, almost knocking him over. So this was what hell felt like, he thought. The sand pierced his skin everywhere at once like a thousand needles.
“Joshua!” he shouted.
Joshua screamed again, surprisingly loud amidst the roar of the wind, and then Justin noticed that his son was less than two feet away, his limbs half-buried in the sand.
He picked Joshua up as gently as he could, but he still cried out in pain. He was naked, and his skin was raw with burns.
At that moment, the abating winds coupled with strange sounds, reminding Justin of a humpback whale. He turned. At the nearest spire, the creatures were undulating back and forth with one another in a coordinated fashion, around and around the spire, from the top to the bottom and then back to the top again. There was only one word for it: they were dancing. They moved faster and faster around the spire, in an effect that was almost hypnotizing.
Amy’s banging on the other side of the airlock snapped him out of it.
Inside, Justin yanked off his gas mask and said to her, “We’ve got to get the hospital. Now! We’ll take the rover.”
She saw her son sprawled across Justin’s arms, a pile of cooked flesh.
Joshua groaned, opening his eyes. “Mother?” he said, smiling weakly. “I did make it, after all.”

Joshua awoke to find himself wrapped in white bandages, in a white room, staring at a white ceiling. He might as well have been nowhere. That was the worst part––the ceiling! Barren and lifeless, he felt its weight coming down on him like an iron beam, swift and sudden––
“Joshua, Joshua!” Mother was gently shaking his arm. “Here, I brought you this,” she said. She handed him his art book.
He breathed a sign of relief. “Thank you,” he said. He began turning the pages and engrossing himself in Mother’s artwork. The way she had captured the flow of the sand and the waving tentacles in the air in her brushstrokes, it was as if he were seeing a moving picture. It soothed him immensely.
“Where am I?” he said at last. “And where is Father?” As much as he hated living in that “home,” Joshua did feel at least some some solace in his own room, with one of them lovingly painted on the ceiling above his head by Mother. It was the only way he could ever fall asleep and conform to the 24-hour day. He would simply close his eyes, and imagine those tendrils wrapping tightly around his flesh.
“Father is speaking to Dr. Kelley in his office. He says you are very lucky you weren’t out there a minute longer,” she said. “Do you remember what happened?”
“I was being beckoned,” Joshua said simply.
“Beckoned?” she said. “In a dream? Do you think you were sleepwalking?”
“No, Mother,” he said with a force that he did not intend. “I was not sleepwalking. I was perfectly aware of what I was doing.”
She watched him for a moment as he turned the pages.
Then he said, “I’m sorry, Mother. It is just that––everybody here seems to think we are on Earth. For a bunch of scientists, you are really a closed-minded lot. Why are we locked into these silly 24-hour days?”
“Because of our biological clock,” Mother said. “Our brains are wired for it because it takes twenty-four hours for the Earth to rotate around its axis: twelve hours in the day, twelve at night. So it’s natural.”
“It’s not natural anymore,” Joshua said. “This planet doesn’t work that way. And my brain isn’t wired for it. You aren’t on Earth. There is a wholly different sensibility here. Why not experience it?”
“Oh, but I do experience something new,” she said, gesturing to the art book. “Every day when I paint.” Smiling, she kissed her forehead. “I’d better get back to your Father.”
Gazing at his Mother’s watercolors, he realized that she might be right.

In Dr. Kelley’s office, Justin was not happy. Amy was sitting there unconcerned, as if what had happened was completely normal for a six-year-old child. It seemed as though only he understood the severity of the situation. “Something is happening to him,” he insisted. “I don’t like it at all. Those creatures––they are doing something to his brain. You must find out what it is.”
Dr. Kelley sat back in his chair, removed his glasses, rubbed his forehead. “Justin. There is nothing wrong with the boy.”
“Nonsense––”
“Nothing as far as I can tell,” Dr. Kelley said. “I told you both the risks when you chose to have this child. One of the things I mentioned was the limited medical diagnostics available to me.This research outpost is not suitably equipped. I’d need an MRI machine, for one thing. I could request one for the next supply shipment, but it would take ten years before it arrived.”
“So what are we supposed to do? Just live with it?”
Dr. Kelley sighed. “Work with him, Justin. Pretend you are in his shoes, for a moment. He’s had to live in a glorified tin box for his entire life. He’s never seen a tree, a blade of grass, or the ocean. He’s never even seen a child his own age. It isn’t easy for him. Try to understand that. And try to understand how lucky both of your are––he is a tremendously gifted child. When he grows up, he will do wonderful things for this colony.”
Lucky, Justin thought. Right. “Come on, Amy. Let’s go. I’ve got to get back. There’s a lot of work I need to do.”

Melissa Kaku and Kevin Roberts sat with Justin in his office. He had called them away from their projects without notice, and they looked at him disoriented and bewildered.
“I want you to build a Faraday cage for me,” he said. “Right away.”
Kaku looked at him, puzzled. “A what?”
“I trust you know what a Faraday cage is, Melissa,” Justin snapped. “You are my chief physicist.”
“Yes, yes of course,” Kaku said. “What are you going to do with it? Have you learned something about the jellies?”
Justin relaxed. “In fact I have. I believe that the electrical energy in the atmosphere plays a vital role in their biological processes. I want to see what happens when that energy is cut off.”
Kaku nodded with interest. “What made you believe this?”
“I was out in the storm last night,” he said.
Richards looked at him in alarm. “Now, sir, don’t you think that was a bit reckless? I can barely keep our homes in one piece with this weather. You cannot underestimate those winds. What made you think––”
“Never mind why I was out there,” Justin interrupted. “It was a special circumstance. Of course, next time I will be more careful and use the robots. But last night I was out there for only a few minutes, but I clearly saw coordinated movement taking place. There is no doubt about it.”
“That’s wonderful news,” Kaku said. “I congratulate you, sir. Perhaps we were wrong. Maybe the jellies are intelligent.”
“Despite not having a central nervous system? Doubtful. But there is information being communicated between them, and I am going to find out how. Richards, get your men and build it. Kaku, you will oversee construction. Make sure it is done to your precise specifications. I want it to work.”
“Yes, sir,” Kaku replied.
Turning to Richards, Justin said, “The cage is to enclose the spire near my house, the one closest to the settlement. I want you to collect the metal and supplies you need while my biologists construct a net around the spire. There are quite a few of the jellies around it now. I want them in there when it is completed.”
“It will take a few days to collect the metal,” Richards said. “The settlement is getting pretty built up, and there aren’t as much scrap left over from the Ballard.”
“If you run into problems you can take materials from one of the projects in construction,” Justin said. “The Faraday cage will be temporary. I expect I will only need to use it once to find out what I need to learn.”

The door to Justin’s laboratory opened, causing him to look up from his PCR results.
“Joshua,” he said, surprised. The boy never came in here. The place terrified him. Justin thought it must be his specimens. Seeing them cut up and dissected must be nightmarish.
“Father,” Joshua said. “I must talk to you about that which you are building around the spire.” There was desperation in his voice. “It is to be completed today, is it not? You must not go through with it. Terrible things will happen.”
“Joshua, don’t worry. I have a good idea what will happen, and no harm will come to you, or anyone else, I assure you.”
“You are wrong, Father. You put too much faith into your experiments. To you, your experiments are the world. To me, the world is much larger.”
“And how do you know my experiments are pointless? The jellies…have they tried to communicate with you?”
“Of course,” Joshua said, as if it were the most trivial thing in the world.
“Of course? Well, what do they tell you?”
Joshua glowered. “Nothing that you could understand,” he said. “Not with the way you’re going about it, anyway.”
“And what way is that?”
“The microscopic way,” he said. “You study the minute details because it is what you know. But while you are doing that, there is a greater viewpoint that you are missing. I don’t blame you for it. You are a molecular biologist, after all. Even though the other members of the team bring their own unique skills, you all suffer from tunnel vision. You fail to grasp the true significance of this place.”
Justin thought about what he was about to say carefully. There must be some way to get through to him. “Joshua, Listen to me. You are my son. I love you. When I saw you out there in the storm, I felt helpless. My science gives me control. It gives me the tools to figure this place out so that I can help you. I don’t want you to suffer.”
“Suffer?” Joshua laughed. “Oh no, Father. I did not suffer.”
“Your body said otherwise.”
“My body is not my own,” Joshua replied.
“What on Earth does that mean?” Justin said. Joshua was not stupid. In fact, he was brilliant, and that was part of the problem. Sometimes Justin could not tell when his son was being serious, or when he was just putting him on. How was he supposed to take “experience the sensibility of this” when the words were being spoken by a six-year-old?
Joshua remained silent, but stared intently into his father’s eyes, as if to challenge him. Then he said, “Look, father. Your problem is this: the world is not a perfectly analyzable system that you can dissect, label, and categorize. That’s not how the world works.”
“You’re six years old. How can you possibly know how the world works?”
Joshua smiled. “I think we both agree I am not a normal six year old.”
Justin had to grant him that point.
“And yet,” Joshua added, “in one respect, I am normal. For this planet, for the experience that it has to offer, I am the most normal thing in the world. Let me tell you something: there are some things that no amount of data can tell you. Experiencing the sensibility of this planet is one of them. You might as well give it up with your approach. It is not applicable here. You don’t know how ‘abnormal’ this all is. It’s because you have no basis for comparison. This is all you’ve known. On Earth, children grow up quite differently. You have a biased perspective. Your knowledge-–human knowledge--is based upon thousands of years of Terran experience. Here that experience is worthless.”
“But son, science is universal––” “I am not talking about science. I am talking about perspective. Take, for example, your name for them.”
“You mean, the jellies?”
“Yes, the ‘jellies.’ Colloquially, the ‘jellies.’ Also known as jellyavians, jellybirds, airfish, et. cetera. Why did you pick those names?”
“Because that’s what they look like,” Father said. “They resemble a jellyfish, except that they “swim” in the thick atmosphere here. So, like birds, they fly.”
“They don’t look like anything,” Joshua replied. “They are their own.”
“Perhaps the part of the problem is you’ve never seen a real jellyfish,” Father said. “If not Jellyavian or anything else, what would you have me call them?”
“I…do not know,” Joshua said, looking at the ground. “All I know is that your terms for them are based on your Earth perceptions. You see this place and you can only relate to it in Terran terms. The only way you will ever understand it is if you banish those preconceived notions of the way the world works. Pretend you are a newborn. Like me. All you know about the world is this place. How do you think you would see it?”
“Quite differently, I imagine.”
“Exactly. This expedition was doomed the second the roster was finalized. They sent biologists, physicists, climatologists. Here—all worthless. One anthropologist would have been worth more than your entire team, Father. They should have sent anthropologists.”
“Doomed,” Justin echoed. “So that’s it, huh? We should give up? Pack our bags and go home? We find the first evidence of life beyond our solar system, and we should quit just like that?”
“It was doomed,” Joshua said.
Was doomed? What saved it?”
Joshua smiled. “You decided to have me.”
“You.” Justin sighed. Yes, Joshua’s brilliance was a problem. He knew that he was brilliant, and it was getting to his head.
“Yes, me. I am the missing perspective. Along with Melissa’s child, whom I expect will share a similar outlook. It is my job to try to guide you––all of you––to this perspective.”
Christ, Justin thought. Guidance from a six-year-old. Try telling Kaku that her electromagnetism experiments would be ‘guided’ by a six year old. She would have a fit.
“You seem so certain about yourself, “ Justin finally said.
“Unlike you and everybody else, this planet is all I know. I am not burdened with the perspective of Earth. I don’t look at everything through that lens. I look at the lens from an entirely different perspective, a perspective that I cannot adequately explain because human language does not have the words for it. But let me put it to you this way: You are a twodimensional creature trying to perceive a three-dimensional world. You cannot do it.”
Justin frowned. “That seems very nihilistic. You want to ignore science, to wallow in the sand out there in despair.”
“I don’t want to wallow,” Joshua said. “If you call it that then you clearly do not understand. And I don’t want to take away your positivism, either. I simply want to show you that there is another way to experience, one that is equally as important and fruitful.”
“Fruitful? All it’s given you is a bunch of second degree burns––”
His phone rang. “What is it, Richards?”
“We are ready, to close the cage, sir. I trust you will want to be here for it.” “I’ll be right there.” Justin grabbed Joshua’s arm. “Let’s go. I have something to show you.”

Justin tried to avert his eyes as they made their way to the spire. The metal enclosure was a hideous thing to behold. It was a patchwork of grey, white and silver steel shackled together out of desperation. It clashed with the golden sky in a way that made Joshua want to cower.
What a horrible coffin, he thought.
Richards and his men were waiting for them. Waiting to put the last horrid piece in place.
“Do you have the video camera set up?”
“Yes, sir. It’s recording.”
“Great. Seal it up.”
Joshua watched in horror, knowing what was about to happen but in a position of complete hopelessness. He braced himself as the last bolt was screwed into place.
Suddenly, the winds picked up, hurling sand into their faces. Joshua heard a thunderclap, and then another, and then another, each one getting louder and louder.
Joshua screamed. It was as if all four of his limbs had been severed. “Stop it! He screamed. Stop it!” Then he was grabbing his ears and rolling over and over on the sands. “Can’t you hear them?” he shouted. “Can’t you hear their cries of pain?”
A second later, it was as if he had been cast into the eye of the storm. He was in a protective funnel, which seemed to be carving out a path for him in the sand. He was being guided underneath the Faraday cage! As soon as he realized this, he found himself inside the enclosure.
The spire stood in the middle, trapped. Glimmering sliver spilled down the side of the spire like blood. The planet was bleeding, and Justin was the cause. He had cut a capillary, and made this place bleed.
The net binding them together must have burst because they were scattered at the base of the spire, lifeless.
They were just a mass of wrinkled, pale flesh now. No longer golden. “No,” he said softly, sobbing. He traced his finger around a tentacle that he could make out. Then it grabbed him, pulling him into the mass of flesh.
An incredible burst of wind sent a section of the Faraday cage crashing into the spire. He felt the sands and the air travel all around him and over the fallen corpses. And then he felt an electrical shock travel through his fingertips and up his arm.
He gasped at the pain––not only his own, but those of all around him.
It was too overwhelming. He blacked out.

Amy flipped through her artbook––Joshua’s book–– listlessly, giving the pages hardly a glance.
It had been two months since Justin had turned Joshua’s room into a Faraday cage, throwing him inside. Joshua’s transformation had been frightening in its swiftness.
“Amy, come in here,” Justin said.
“Guess what Melissa told me. That substance we found inside the spire? Well, it has some extraordinary properties. One of those properties is that electrical signals can be propagated at any point along it instantaneously.One of the ecologists thinks that there could be rivers of this stuff underneath the sands. All of the spires could be connected––”
She didn’t want to hear any of this. “What does this have to do with our son?”
“I believe the jellies communicate with electrical signals. If this communication is instantaneous, then maybe Joshua has somehow connected himself––”
“I don’t want to hear your scientific explanations,” Amy said. “They don’t matter.”
“Don’t matter? Amy, those things stole our little boy and changed into some sort of..of…”
“Sort of what? Monster?”
Justin left the question lingering.
“You’re wrong” Amy said. “He was still human. He was special. And now you’ve taken him away. Our ‘little boy’ in that room? He’s not the son I’ve been raising.”
“That’s because you haven’t been raising a son! Don’t you understand? They’ve been messing with his head this entire time! For all we know, he was just a mouthpiece for the things.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Joshua knew I was his mother. I could see it in his eyes. He was my child.”
“That’s exactly what they would want you to think,” Justin said. With that, he stormed into his lab and slammed door.
Amy stood there, trying to wipe dry tears from her eyes.
Mommy!” Justin wailed from his room.
“Just a minute, sweetie,” Amy managed.
She took the keycard out of her pocket and swiped it, entering the small Faraday cage airlock that opened to Joshua’s room. Amy had tried to convince him that it was unnecessary, that it was like locking Joshua in prison. But Justin insisted that it was only a precaution; Amy might forget to close the doors behind her. “Forget,” was the way he said it, implying that she would forget on purpose. For Justin, the worst thing in the world that could happen to his son would be to get out of that room, and be exposed to the creatures.
But Amy was beginning to feel that her son’s isolation was doing more harm than good.
She found him standing on his bed, a triumphant grin on his face.
“What is it, sweetie?” Amy asked with a childish smile. “Why are you jumping on your bed?”
“I wanna see the jellies!” he said. “I know they’re there, and I wanna see ‘em! Show me! Show me!”
My god, she thought. He really does know they are there, behind the metal wall.
“Free them, free the jellies!”
At that moment, a loud whirring came from the direction of Justin’s laboratory.
Perhaps it was time. Joshua was clearly remembering something.
She went to the storage room, and pulled out a crowbar. She went back to the room, stood on his bed, and pried the metal sheeting off. Suddenly a composure came over Joshua, one that was far more mature for his years.
“Mother,” he said, hugging her tightly. “Thank you so much.”
Amy smiled. “You’re back,” she said. “Come on. I have something to show you. But we must leave quietly. Your Father must not know we’ve left.”

When Mother had removed the metal sheet from the ceiling, the effect had been almost immediate. An overwhelming sense of awareness suddenly swept over him, both exhilarating and daunting. It was if the last two months had happened years ago, while the death of the spire had happened only last night.
Which made their apparent destination all the more terrifying.
“Mother, tell me we are not going to the spire,” he said. “I am…beginning to remember now. I am not sure if I can handle it. The experience was…extraordinarily painful. It is still so clear in my mind.”
Amy squatted so that she was looking up at him. “Yes, I am. But don’t worry. What I am going to show you is nothing horrific. I’m not going to show you your father’s latest experiment. I’m going to show you what I have been working on. Do you trust me?”
Slowly, Joshua nodded, his curiosity piqued. “I trust you,” he said.
They continued to walk down the sand dune, towards the spire.
“Your father has been prone to outbursts lately, she said. “Whatever he’s doing in the laboratory, it’s not progressing well. So I built this place, quiet and free of distractions, where I can do my work.”
As they drew closer, Justin noticed that a small airlock door had been carved into the stone. They made their way to the airlock and inside the small space.
The periphery of the circular room was covered with canvases, painting supplies, molds, chisels, blocks of stone. But in the center--there was no doubt this was the reason Justin had been brought here. The entire sculpture gleamed a strange golden-yellow, and he walked toward it slowly, as thought it were casting a trance. It pierced Joshua’s eyes in its intensity.
The sculpture towered over him, standing to the tip of the ceiling. A child––Joshua–– was extending his finger towards one of them above his head. One of its tendrils was wrapped tightly around it. And there, on the other side of him, was a man—Father, with also a finger outstretched, a tendril gripping it.
“You made it out of the fluid,” he whispered.
She smiled. “Yes. Melissa discovered something. Turns out if you heat the stuff enough, it becomes a claylike substance that you can mold and sculpt.”
Beautiful, Justin thought. It was created with human hands, but not a human material . And it was made here: not in the “house,” but actually in an adapted spire, a place that was a perfect combination of the human and the not human. There was something naïvely hopeful in the work, but the hope was nevertheless sincere and honest. He noticed that it was called “Union of human and Other”––she had not used the term jelly, or airfish, or anything else.
He did not notice that he was crying until Mother kelt down and wiped away his tears. They embraced, and in that embrace he realized that he communicated more to her than he ever had before.
He only wished that he could share a similar experience with Father. The airlock opened. It was Justin.
He came bursting in, making his way towards Amy. “What do you think you are doing?” He spit the words at her.
“Don’t touch her, Father!” Joshua said. It was an impossibly commanding tone for Joshua’s stature. But Justin obeyed. He stood still, and the three of them looked at one another. Justin and Joshua met each other’s gaze.
Then Justin said, “He is changed already. Look what you’ve done, Amy! That was two months of work, undone in a single moment. He’s back to being one of them.”
Joshua shook his head disapprovingly, as if scolding a child. “Just listen to you, Father. ‘Two months of work.’ I am not one of your experiments. You are trying to mold me into something that meets your own expectations. But let’s be realistic. You couldn’t have kept me in that room for very long. I would have found a way out sooner or later. The youngest person in this colony is twenty-one years old. That means to be certain that I would remain ‘undamaged,’ you would have to keep me in there for fifteen years. Keeping me locked up in a metal box for my entire childhood would do far more damage to me than letting me experience this place. Besides, what’s done is done. You may be able to save Melissa’s child by telling her to keep it in a Faraday cage from birth, but good luck convincing her. More people will be having children. This planet is different, it is changing us. You are afraid of that change. I understand that. But it is time you came around.”
Justin looked defeated. “So I’ve lost you,” he said.
Joshua shook his head. “No, Father. I am still your son. You haven’t lost me. You just don’t realize it.”
“And how am I supposed to realize it?”
Joshua smiled. “Mother has figured it out. Why not ask her?”
And then, without saying another word, he turned and entered the airlock.
“Joshua, your mask––” he heard Father behind him, but he paid no heed.
He stepped into the golden air and laughed as the grains of sand intertwined with his hair. He took in one deep, satisfying breath.
This time, his lungs did not fail him.

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