Here’s the third chapter of The Aeon Academy. This is as far into the book as I’m going to go on this website, as I’ll need something unread to (hopefully) give to publishers 🙂 . As always, any thoughts, feedback or editing tips would be hugely appreciated, especially your overall reaction to the first three chapters and whether they made you want to read the rest of the novel.
Wayne felt worried as Rob drove him to the airport. Rob could barely sit upright, much less navigate the busy highway. The traffic in Emergan was never this bad. It was like the town was trying to keep them in, impeding them with stubborn drivers who seemed to be physically incapable of merging.
Despite his worries, they made it to the airport without a single accident. Well, apart from a rather adventurous pigeon, but Wayne felt Rob was doing pretty well for someone who had just taken a serious hit to the head.
Their flight wasn’t scheduled to leave for another few hours. Rob went to the medical centre, and came back ten minutes later, holding a bottle of painkillers and a report that cleared him of concussion.
“You want any food?” he asked.
Wayne made an awkward refusal.
“You sure?” Rob said. “It’s not my money, it’s the schools. Didn’t think I’d waste my savings on you, did you?”
“I wouldn’t dream of it. The thing is, I’m not actually hungry at all.”
“How long ago was it since you ate?” Rob asked, frowning.
Wayne thought back to this morning. He’d had breakfast – no, wait, that had been ruined by Manuel.
“Last night,” he said slowly.
“Must be something to do with your ability,” Rob said, mystified. “You sure you don’t want something? You might get hungry on the plane.”
“Okay then,” Wayne said, shrugging. “Thanks.”
Rob smiled as he stood up. He instantly regretted it as pain flared up to his temples.
“You okay?” Wayne asked. “You should take some of those painkillers.”
Rob thought about nodding, then released that would probably make it worse. He held an upright thumb out to Wayne.
“I want to wait until we’re on the plane,” Rob said. “Then I can rest in peace.”
A few hours later, they got onto the plane. After another twenty minutes, the plane’s jets began to rumble. The sleek aircraft rocketed down the runway and lifted off into the air.
Wayne looked out the window. Emergan lay sprawled out below, becoming tinier by the second. He was not sure what to feel. He was pretty sure that he’d been born there, and everything he could remember had happened in it. He’d had some good times in the orphanage. Climbing onto its roof, crawling around in the air ducts, starting an epic food fight that lasted for hours and getting away with it, making a maze out of the multitude of bed mattresses, then covering the whole thing with sheets and hundreds of other little things that he struggled to remember.
But at the same time, there had been a very good reason why he’d run away from it. The staff, caring and compassionate at first, became like a totalitarian regime with the arrival of Manuel, Alvaro and Fred. Wayne lost his oldest friends and had to learn to cope with being picked on every single day, with no one for support.
A clean slate, Wayne thought, seeing Emergan shrink into a single pin on the ground below. This is a new life now.
He shut the window, sunk back into his seat, and took in the first class cabin. Rob, using the school’s funds, had upgraded their tickets.
“I saved money with the hire care,” Rob had reasoned. “This is where it went.”
Wayne could live with that.
The first class cabin was luxury like Wayne had never seen before. Each seat seemed wide enough for two people and could recline into a bed. There was so much space between Wayne’s feet and the seat in front that he could barely touch it. Best of all, they were the only ones in the roomy, sixteen-seat cabin.
Wayne exhaled a deep, happy breath. He pulled out his complementary headphones from their plastic wrapping and turned them over in his hands. They were well padded, and weighed so little. He put them on, and found that they hardly needed any adjustment. He’d never had anything so wonderfully new before.
Wayne plugged the headphones into the in-built port in his armrest. The television screen in front of him switched from showing the plane’s journey to a list of movies and sitcoms. He’d never seen any of them before, so he chose one at random and reclined his chair back a few comfortable degrees.
Four hours later, the pilot announced that they were beginning their descent. Wayne switched off his screen, put his brand new headphones around his neck and opened the window.
It was dark outside. The time difference meant that it was almost eleven in the evening. Wayne turned to Rob.
“Where’s the city?” he asked.
He could see a few scattered lights, but nothing the size of the city. Rob peered out the window and grinned.
“You’ll see it in a minute,” he said.
The plane tilted to one side. Wayne’s mouth dropped open.
A wide river, reflecting the multitude of coloured lights, ran through the middle of the city, splitting it in two. On either side, huge buildings rose into the sky, lights outlining their countless levels.
Even these monolithic structures were dwarfed by the mountains in the far distance. The mountains rose for kilometres into the air, forming hundreds of impassable ridges. Forests and rivers filled the valleys these formed. Several kilometres beyond the mountain was the ocean, a flat expanse of black water at this time of the night.
Wayne squinted through the window. Between all the twisting masses of mountains was a huge expanse of forest that continued to the coast. Numerous lakes, rivers and rocky outcrops littered this area, but it seemed to be unusually flat and clear compared to the mountain region surrounding it.
The plane began to descend, making the region disappear as the mountain ranges rose up from the ground to cover it.
They touched down at the airport seven minutes later. The plane came to a comfortable halt. The ‘seat belts on’ sign flicked off.
“Welcome to Belpo,” the pilot said. “It is currently fourteen past eleven, and the temperature is nineteen degrees. Thanks you for flying with us.”
Rob made sure he’d his bags – he’d only brought hand luggage – and led Wayne out of the plane. They arrived at customs. Rob pushed a slip of paper over the counter. Three minutes later, they were out the front of the airport. The two security officers who had escorted them turned around and headed back inside. Wayne turned to Rob.
“What was that?” he asked.
He’d tried to keep his curiosity from reaching his face while the officers had been with them. Now that they were alone, it broke through in a huge wave.
“Magic,” Rob said, waving his hand in the air.
Wayne cocked his head to one side and raised an eyebrow.
“Okay, it’s this form they give to certain agencies. It’s sort of like diplomatic immunity; if you have one of those forms, customs can’t search your luggage, check your passport, or do any of those sort of things.”
Wayne nodded, then thought of another question
“I got it legally, okay?” Rob said, forestalling Wayne.
“So it was just the secret service card you faked?” Wayne asked, grinning.
“Yes,” Rob replied.
They caught a taxi to an average-looking motel. It was dwarfed by the buildings around it, but looked hospitable enough.
“Is this the school?” Wayne asked, confused.
Rob shook his head, grinning.
“There’s a group of students arriving in the city at ten tomorrow. We’re not in any rush, so we’ll go back to the airport and pick them up.”
Rob looked at his watch. Wayne hadn’t really noticed it before, but it seemed a lot bigger than a normal watch. Rob dropped his hand back to his side and yawned.
“That, and its past midnight.”
They walked into the motel. Barely five room keys were missing from the board behind the concierge’s desk. Rob booked a room and barely five minutes later, Wayne collapsed onto a vaguely springy bed. He turned over, and fell asleep before he could release a single yawn.
The next day they left the hotel early and ate breakfast at one of the cafes in the airport. Thirty-three minutes past ten, the plane carrying the students arrived.
Rob had hired a minibus. Wayne filled into the vehicle and sat at the window. A kid wearing a T-shirt that said ‘Keep staring, I might do a trick’ slid in next to him.
“Hey, I’m Treleven,” he said, “but just call me Trev.”
“Wayne,” Wayne replied, shaking Trev’s hand.
The minibus set off. It was nearing midday, which meant that traffic was reasonably heavy. The minibus slowed to a halt.
“So, what’s your power?” Trev asked.
Wayne paused, thinking of a way to demonstrate.
“Do you have anything sharp?” he said.
Trev frowned. He grabbed his backpack from underneath his seat and rummaged through it. He pulled out a splinter of plastic that looked like remanets of a broken case.
“I tripped over my bag, and this got broken,” Trev said, handing it to Wayne. “I was lucky, though, because I’d just taken the CD out of the case.”
“That’s good,” Wayne said.
“So, you were going to do something with it?” Trev asked, expectant.
“Yup,” Wayne said.
He plunged the razor sharp shard of plastic down into his forearm. He felt a light, harmless pressure as the shard fractured into two separate pieces. Trev’s eyes widened, his eyebrows rising into the air.
“That’s awesome!” Trev said. “How strong is it? Like, have you tested it?”
“Well, I haven’t really tried it out too much yet,” Wayne said. “I did get hit by a baseball bat, though.”
Trev’s eyebrows disappeared into his tangled brown hair.
“And I got knifed in the hand,” Wayne added.
Trev’s eyebrows set off for Mars.
“Seriously? Did it hurt?”
Wayne thought back to the car park outside the police station, and to the bus. The baseball bat had felt like balsa wood – no, it hadn’t felt like anything. The only thing he’d felt was a light brush on the side of his head, just enough for him to know that something was there. He wasn’t sure how to express that. Finally, he reached over to Trev and tapped the side of his head softly.
“That’s how it felt,” Wayne said.
Trev’s eyebrows, struggling to breathe oxygen on Mars, set off for Alpha Centauri.
“A baseball bat, and that’s all it was? Man, that’s incredible. A lot better than my ability.”
He emitted a puff of white gas from the middle of his palm. Wayne could not help it. He laughed.
“What do they call you?” he asked. “Snow-man?”
Trev joined in with the laughter.
“It’s not snow, actually,” he said.
“What is it, then?” Wayne asked, laughter dying down as it was replaced by curiosity.
“Carbon dioxide,” Trev said. “Like in fire extinguishers.”
Wayne nodded, impressed.
“So what things can you do with it?” he asked. “I mean, apart from putting out fires and such.”
“I haven’t really had a whole lot of success with stopping fires, actually,” Trev said. “The biggest one I’ve stopped so far was when my brother left the toaster on.”
Wayne laughed, then composed himself, putting on a serious face.
“Toaster fires are more dangerous than you might think,” he said shaking a finger in the air. “They are no joking matter.”
Trev pushed him in the arm, sniggering.
“Since when did you join the government?”
“Hey, did you say you had a brother?” he asked.
Trev shook his head up and down.
It was Wayne’s turn to raise his eyebrows.
Trev nodded again. He held up four fingers.
“One’s younger than me, two are older, and go to the Aeon Academy – one’s in his final year. The last one’s a few years out of school, and he’s halfway through his uni course,” he said, counting them off on his fingers.”
Trev turned around in his seat and peered along the minibus’ short aisle.
“Oi! Gerald and Lionel!” he called.
Two heads popped out from either side of the aisle and crashed into each other. One was quite lanky, and the other had a mop of frizzy hair with a streak of dyed green down the middle.
“Gah!” said green hair, rubbing his forehead.
“Watch it,” lanky said, doing the same. “What do you want, Trev?”
“Just introducing you to my friend, Wayne,” Trev said cheerfully. “Gerald’s the one with what he thinks is cool hair and Lionel’s the mess of bones. Gerald’s older.”
They glared at Trev.
“We can hear you,” Gerald said menacingly.
Trev shrugged, and turned back to Wayne. Wayne looked wistful at the easy banter between the brothers. He wished he’d family to do that with.
“What’s the matter?” Trev asked.
“I never had any family. I grew up in an orphanage.”
Trev did not look sure how to respond.
“Don’t worry,” Trev said, patting him on the shoulder. “We’ll be your family.”
Wayne looked back at him, thankful that he’d not teased him or tried to change the topic. That was the reaction of most people, he knew. To treat it like it was nothing or ignore it completely.
“Thanks,” Wayne replied. “So, you know a bit about the school from your brothers?”
“He’d know nothing without us,” Lionel said from behind them.
“Full stop,” Gerald added.
Trev ignored them, although the smile on his face indicated he was not completely deaf.
“Yeah, a little bit,” he said.
“Everything!” Lionel yelled.
Rob turned around in the driver’s seat. The car was stuck in another wave of traffic and it looked like some passing celebrity, escorted by the police, had caused it.
“It’s not too late for me to change your exam score, Lionel Roberts,” he threatened.
Lionel shrank back in his seat, and reduced his voice to a whisper. Trev smiling broadly, gave Rob the thumbs-up.
About forty minutes later, Rob parked the car in a multistorey car park. He turned around as the others began unbuckling their seats and grabbing their luggage.
“Don’t talk about the Academy in public,” he said. “And especially don’t talk about your powers. Stay close to me. We’re going to a very public place and it’d be easy for us to get separated. If you do get lost, call this number.”
He handed everyone a business card. Wayne looked at it. It had the number for ‘K and K Pizza’ on it.
“You’ll get an answering machine. Press nine thee times, and you’ll be forwarded to the school.”
Rob popped the doors and they followed him out of the car park, stopping briefly to pay for a ticket. He led them to a crowded underground train station.
“Stay close,” Rob repeated, making his way through the bustling crowd.
“Are we getting on a train?” Wayne asked in a whisper.
“I’m not sure,” Trev replied.
Wayne looked up at the ceiling. It was a long way off, and well lit. He breathed a sigh of relief. His heartbeat dissipated a little.
Rob led them to a janitor’s closet. They were probably at the furthest western end of the station; they had been walking for some time. There were a lot less people here, queuing up next to the platform and waiting expectantly for the train to slide alongside it. Security cameras were fixed to the ceiling. Rob pointed to the various areas of the underground platform. Wayne looked at him for a second, then realised that Rob was creating the impression of a summer camp tour. It wasn’t the best cover, but it was much better than a group of adolescents and one adult loitering near a broom cupboard.
A train arrived, sweeping away the people who had been milling around the platform moments before. The platform was empty.
Rob tapped the screen of his watch. The red lights on the security cameras fizzled out, and the janitor’s closet behind him opened. He stepped inside, beckoning for them to follow.
Wayne, the last through the door, shut it behind him. The closet was exactly what he’d expected. Small. With their luggage and bags, the group filled up the entire space, like a gigantic balloon inflated inside a tiny cardboard box.
“One second,” said Rob’s voice, muffled by the bags between him and Wayne.
A few moments later, Wayne almost fell forward as Trev’s bag, which was in his face, moved towards Rob. He steadied himself using a nearby mop, and peered up towards the walking form of Trev. He gasped.
A door, wide enough to fit two people side by side, had opened in the wall. A long tunnel led off for about ten metres. Beyond that was another platform. Wayne’s stomach plummeted. He took a step back. Trev reached the end of the ten metre tunnel and turned around.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
“I’m claustrophobic,” Wayne said, looking at the tunnel apprehensively.
Trev looked puzzled.
“But it’s not even small. Look, I can barely touch the top.”
He proved his point by jumping into the air and missing the roof of the tunnel. It didn’t seem to make a difference to Wayne.
“It’s not that,” Wayne said, cringing. “There’s no light. I don’t like dark places.”
Trev stoked his chin in thought. After a moment, he walked to Wayne.
“I’ll come with you,” he said. “C’mon, you’ve been hit by a baseball bat. You can do this.”
Wayne looked shaky. His face was much paler than usual.
“Okay,” he said.
He took a step forward. He took another, and another, and kept his eyes on his feet. He felt his palms sweat, and resisted the urge to look up. He took another step.
“That’s it, Wayne,” Trev said, patting him on the shoulder.
Wayne looked up at the ceiling cautiously. He was out of the tunnel. He breathed a sigh of relief. The ceiling was much higher here, and there was lots of illuminating, benevolent, beautiful light.
Rob looked at him curiously.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
Wayne nodded. He could feel colour coming back into his face.
“I think the cleaning product made me dizzy,” he said.
Now that he was through the tunnel, Wayne had his first proper look at the platform. It was a small slab of concrete, small but comfortably able to hold the sizeable group of students. At the end of the platform, two tracks curled in a half circle to meet each other. Apart from this, the two tracks were parallel with each other, off into the far distance. Rob glanced at his watch.
“Should be here any minute now,” he said.
As if on cue, a small speck rounded the corner in the distance. It grew larger and larger until it stopped just before the end of the platform with a soft screech of metal.
“It’s a bit small, isn’t it?” Wayne asked.
It resembled something that you would find on the rails of a rollercoaster, except that it was larger and enclosed. The cart was about two metres long and one and a half wide, with windows that wrapped around the whole vehicle. Wayne thought that it looked quite futuristic, but he didn’t see how the cart could sit any more than four people.
Rob simply pointed to the end of the tunnel. Another several carts appeared in the distance and made their way towards the platform.
“Ahh,” Wayne said.
The group boarded the carts. Wayne and Trev, near the back, were the last to board. They got into their cart with two other students who they didn’t know. The inside of the cart resembled a train cabin, albeit a very large one. The gap between the large seats – or more accurately, lounges, for they held two people each – was quite substantial.
“I’m Wayne,” Wayne said, leaning across the considerably large gap between each of their seats to one of the boys’ hands.
“Lenny,” the boy replied.
There was nothing too remarkable about Lenny, apart from the fact that he seemed to have drunk too many energy drinks. He tapped the window, ruffled his hair, and generally looked like he wished that time would go quicker.
The other boy introduced himself as Hal. In sharp contrast to Lenny, he sat perfectly still, amused by his friend’s hyperactive behaviour.
“What can you two do?” Trev asked, introductions over.
“Reflexes,” Lenny said quickly. “It’s a bugger on long trips, though. Makes it feel twice as long.”
Wayne cocked his head to the side.
“So it’s permanently switched on?” he asked.
“How about you?” he asked.
Wayne explained his ability, leaving Lenny and Hal suitably stunned.
“A baseball bat?” Hal asked, not sure if he’d heard it right.
Trev nodded encouragingly.
Lenny had stopped fidgeting through Wayne’s story. He started again, going twice as fast to make up for any taps that he’d missed.
“You, Hal?” Trev asked.
“Mine’s basically ridiculously accurate throwing,” Hal said.
“He hit a fly out of the air on the plane trip over here,” Lenny contributed.
Trev finished the round by shooting a small burst of carbon dioxide at the window. Lenny laughed.
“You should join the fire brigade,” he said, chuckling.
Light suddenly flooded the cart as it sharply ascended above the ground, leaving the tunnel behind. Wayne’s eyes adjusted instantaneously, while the other three flinched at the brightness. Wayne looked back at the tunnel, now a fast receding hole at the base of a mountain.
This must be that mountain range I saw from the plane, Wayne realised.
They were surrounded by mountains on all sides except for a tiny gap several hundred metres ahead that the tracks passed through. Wayne looked out the windows excitedly. He’d never seen mountains before, not from this sort of distance.
They were in a shallow valley, travelling alongside a slowly running stream. The mountains on either side were gigantic. Their tops were covered in cloud and snow. Belts of pine trees circled about their lower regions like a mossy belt.
The cart passed through the gap Wayne had spotted earlier, and the mountains fell away. Ahead of them was a thick forest, changing from alpine to temperate as it neared the coast. Several kilometres before the coast the forest fell away, revealing a vast clearing of land, many kilometres wide, that extended to the ocean. It was hard to tell from this distance, but Wayne thought he could see buildings near the coast.
The cart slowed to cross over a small stream. In the distance, the stream turned into a series of rapids and then into a broad river spanned by several bridges.
He lost sight of the river as the cart plunged into the forest in earnest. Wayne had never been that deep into a forest, so it was all new to him. He peered intently through the window.
The trees, dark pillars of wood fringed with mottled green leaves, were spread out from each other. The ground was covered in a thin coating of orangey-brown leaves.
They travelled through the forest for a few more minutes, finally finding their tongues again. They talked about how they had discovered their powers – Wayne’s story easily won – and the most spectacular failures they had had using them. Trev easily outclassed the others with a recount of his failed attempt to fly, resulting in a hefty amount of property damage, many scratches and a rather shell-shocked cat.
After about twenty minutes of this, the cart began to slow. Their talk died down as the forest around them fell back. In the distance, entering a long, single-story building, was another cart. Theirs followed its route, passing through a wide entrance and docking alongside a slightly raised platform inside the building, which resembled a miniature train station. They hopped out.
The other students were already there; some sitting on their luggage, some still getting it out of the carts. Wayne, Trev, Lenny and Hal joined the latter category, extracting their various cases from the overhead cabinets in the train. Having got their luggage, they made their way up to the platform, where Rob was about to address the group.
“Welcome,” he said, “to the Aeon Academy.”
Thanks for reading!