The measured breath of sleep had been emanating from Terant’s cot for a while, but Luca couldn’t sleep. Esk’Onegut’s legacy — the traveler’s knowledge and experience — hid in the dark alleyways of his consciousness and came to the fore only when he needed them, and only in tiny doses. Like with those new words the boy had heard from the khhar.
That was why what Terant had told him had stunned Luca, and he’d been trying for quite some time to imagine a world without hungry and sick people. Self-moving carts, the gleaming skin of the racants of whom the khhar had described in vivid detail. All this seemed far less incredible than the absence of hunger and disease.
“You syahrs live in a cesspool of humanity,” Terant had said. “And all the good things that the powerful and noble people have — it’s all just contraband garbage smuggled in from our trash heaps.”
What a long day! Luca thought. And so much happened! This morning I was a paralyzed cripple dreaming of bread crusts. Then I died, resurrected and started walking! And now I’m in a cage with an alien khhar and I’ve learned more about the world than I ever knew! And in the morning I’m going to be tried for breaking Karim’s collar bone! Amazing!
He didn’t bother worrying about what would happen after the trial. Whatever happened to him from then on, it couldn’t be worse than what he’d been through already.
He tried to fall asleep again, tossing and turning, enjoying every movement of his newly healthy body. He felt a joyous amazement just at the ability to scratch himself by merely stretching out a hand.
The young blood and energy transferred from Terant bubbled within him. Luca stood up and started pacing back and forth in the cell. He’d missed something, but what?
As soon as he remembered the Wheel, some text appeared before him again and he heard it read out in his own voice in his head.
Luca’Onegut, life one.
Reminiscent. Successor to Esk’Onegut.
Influence level: 0.
Tsoui points: 1.
One-time Wheel spin privilege activated.
Luca froze, reading it again and again. Then he confidently pressed ‘Yes.’
This time, the Wheel looked different: maybe because he was in a dark prison cell, or maybe because it was the first time he’d spun it as a traveler. The huge wheel withb its thousands upon thousands of sectors stretching into the starry sky had disappeared, replaced by a small one about the size of a tray.
It appeared to hover in the air a few feet from the boy, and each of its segments was lit from within. Most of the Wheel was lit in pure lily-white, but there were also narrow multicolored segments. Luca couldn’t see a purple one among them, nor any red or gold segments. It was pure white almost everywhere, with hints of blue melding with the dominant color.
He gained some understanding from Esk’s trove of knowledge: the Wheel’s leveled up with every use, increasing its abilities to change the traveler. At first this saddened Luca, but then he calmed down. At least there were no red sectors! In one of his lives, Esk had gotten an incurable disease. He’d become patient zero of a pandemic that had destroyed a civilization. The infected became extremely aggressive, and could only be killed by destroying their brains, which was quite difficult in a world without ranged weapons. Such as were in Esk’s penultimate life, for example.
Luca looked over his shoulder. Terant continued to sleep, his breath still as sedate as before. In spite of the Wheel’s light, the cell remained dark. The light existed only in the boy’s head. When he realized that, he calmed down, took a deep breath, and set the spin in motion.
The starting green sector was replaced by a series of white, then a flash of pale blue, then it got too fast to tell them apart. The Wheel built up speed.
Not exactly convenient, he thought. I can’t make anything out. If only I could make it bigger...
The Wheel reacted sensitively, and its size multiplied by ten. Now Luca could make out colors other than white in the blur of sectors. Was that a flash of gold?
The boy grew bored as he watched the monotony of melding sectors and heard only the thrum of the Wheel, as if a bumblebee had gotten into the cell and was beating against the walls in search of freedom, but just as it seemed that both the bee and Luca himself would languish together forever in the dark of the cell, the spinning began to slow.
Passing over a range of white sectors, one deep blue sector and a couple of blueish ones — all talents of various power — the indicator stopped.
Luca stared at the thin sector gleaming in gold. He couldn’t believe his eyes. Text appeared in front of his eyes and made him believe, but it was far from what he was expecting.
One-time Wheel spin token used.
Spin result: gold sector.
Luca’Onegut receives the superpower (applied to current body and world of existence): Metamorphosis.
Metamorphosis? Luca Dezisimu had hoped that he’d get a talent for some rare profession, some skill that could help him pay his way in the Empire, but this?
At the same time, Luca’Onegut rubbed his hands in glee. He remembered some kind of association from his earthly life — a piano? A music box? It didn’t matter.
Esk had never managed to get this superpower, but he’d seen it in action. The ability to control all the processes in his body with the power of thought; just like beauty, this was a terrifying power! He’d known one clawed traveler that had covered his skeleton, all his bones, in a rare alloy...
Ability level one.
This ability allows you to control your body on a basic level: temperature, energy expenditure, immune system, metabolic activity, rapid healing, tissue and organ regeneration, sharpened senses.
Impulsively, Luca closed his hand into a fist and struck the stone cell wall. Inwardly recoiling in expectation of the coming pain, he willed his fist to become stronger than stone. Iron was stronger than stone!
Transformation impossible. Not enough iron in body!
The dull thud of the little fist on the stone turned into an agonizing wail, which woke up Terant.
Alex (Aleksei) Bobl is a literary agent and a science fiction writer, author of 13 novels. An ex-paratrooper, he used his military knowledge and experience to write his debut novels for S.T.A.L.K.E.R., a bestselling science fiction action adventure series set in a post-apocalyptic Chernobyl.
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