Whatever Normal Is
19th September 2008
Series: Anomaly Chronicles
Summary: Nicholas Starburn's first memory is of being presented with a choice: that he could spend his short life living as normally and as meaningfully as possible or he could give himself up and serve as a Seer.
Warnings: You know the drill.
Author Notes: This story is for _profiterole_ but semipertinent gets a special mention. Love to all my readers, too. But please have patience while I finish writing this story, I'm still in the closing chapters.
Crashing down came the avalanche of white-hot pain and shifting coloured clouds, and Nicholas Starburn fell to his knees, vision whiting out with the haze of Sight, his back arched stiffly and screamed.
His throat opened, as though there was no catch, no restriction against the passage of air, as the pressure in his body forced it all out too much and too quickly. It was as though from his belly to his mouth, his body opened into a huge tube-shaped cavity to get the sound out. He'd been told it sounded horrible but he had never heard his own screams in this state; did not hear them now.
He was too busy being in the inescapable grip of a great and impossible force that had seemed to grab each of the cells that made up his body and pull him through a tunnel of Too Much.
Sound; too loud to bear and too soft to grasp, replaced too quickly, too much too much too much. Touch; it came in a crashing wave of thousands and thousands of sensations from a ghostly caress to a furious slap, too many to tell apart, a constant race over his skin. Taste; a whirlwind of millions of inseparable variations rushing over his tongue, none of them really registered. Movement; people, streets, walls, animals, things, doors, glass, ground, grass, sky, colour, light, darkness, life, death, on and on and on and on and on and on andonandonandon—
With a gasp of breath he was suddenly released, collapsing limply and hitting his cheek on the carpeted floor. His vision swam so he couldn't see, and his ears rang so he couldn't hear. His skin gripped him too tightly, he didn't know which way was up or down, and the world was just some fuzzy, hazy place that sounded too much like being underwater. Panting, all he knew was the white buzz of relief.
It was over.
So very badly he want to pass out, let the darkness of slumber pull him away but he knew from experience that fainting after a vision only made it repeat itself in loop until he woke screaming all over again. A thin film of perspiration glazed each inch of skin and dripped down his scalp to cool on his neck. He tried to stay still, knew that like pin-prickles of a limb gone to sleep that the slightest movement would make him want to cry. It felt like he weighed ten times as much as he really did, his own body pressed too hard to the floor and it took everything, every thought and conscious effort just to pull air down into his lungs to breathe…
When these 'incidents' first happened, he'd been assured it lasted only a maximum of ten seconds. And just as the first time, it never seemed like that. Only ten seconds? It was years. Lifetimes. Centuries. Ages. Eons.
It was passion and obsession, desperation and desolation, ecstasy and joy, rage and fury, surrender and hopelessness, both dystopia and heaven. It was all and everything and sometimes nothing at all.
Each and every day, it swirled in the back of his mind waiting and coiling, there and present. It was linked into All Things, made him too close to everything that happened around him and he had no choice but to avoid people or places where emotions ran too high. Over time it would begin to spike, usually because of touch or stress, then that entity would crest over days or even a week, dangerous and slowly like an uncoiling snake, quicker and quicker, gathering momentum until it was a great and unstoppable tsunami –no really this time there would nothing left of him, it was too big, too great— and it would crash down and drown him. Snatch him up and shove things into his head beyond his time and comprehension. Forget understanding; that was beyond even imaginable. It was all he had just to get by living past them, writing them down as he'd been told, not trying to think about it, accepting it happened but hating each day that dawned because that day might be—
More than a few Seers simply died from being unable to handle the visions. They went insane or didn't come out of that one last vision that forever wiped away the line between Sight and living. Other Seers killed themselves; some normal people had killed themselves over far less.
Nicholas had been told he was one of the lucky ones. And he wished he could force one of those 'just ten seconds' on them and let them see what they would say after that, the bastards.
But in the next breath, he knew they were right. A good forty percent of Seers who manifested at the customary puberty died within a year from sheer strain. Another thirty percent never made it to their eighteenth birthday, if not succumbing to strain then to madness or suicide. Twenty percent didn't make it out of being nineteen.
A measly ten percent of all Seers survived long enough to get to their twenties, and it remained another story how much further they held on after that.
Only two were alive today.
No one had ever made it past thirty.
Nicholas was turning twenty on Sunday.
Today? Wednesday. He had class, he thought, as his sight cleared and refocused, his hearing going back to normal. With a sigh, a deep breath just to check everything was okay and in one piece, he pushed himself up off the floor. And this University life, his hockey training his one concession, was supposed to be 'normal'? This? Certainly not.
But he went to a school he loved and had subjects he was genuinely interested in, had friends he adored and a secret love… anything at all, as long as it didn't have anything to do with Seeing and magic.
Nicholas brushed back his hair and stumbled for the shower, muscles still shaking, scenting hyacinths in the air but they didn't grow anywhere nearby and he had none in his room. Still shaking slightly, he unevenly managing to get the water running and himself under the spray. He braced his arms on the wall, tilted his face into the fall, sipped at the water as it fell on him, needing the moisture to soothe his raw throat. He let the heat relax his muscles because each and every fibre of it has strained for those ten seconds –and at least the full freeze of it did give his body a bit of a workout. Nicholas sighed and got to showering; it took nearly forty minutes instead of the usual twenty but he was ready and looking normal, ready to face the day at the end of it.
Wiping the mirror vapour down with his hand, he checked his eyes were still grey, rumpled his wavy brown hair so it didn't look like a rabbit nest. Too thin, Nicole often said, that they could wear the same size. The muscles on his body and the curves on Nicole's were all that differentiated them because despite being fraternal twins, they looked startlingly, achingly alike.
He wondered how she was and if she had sensed the latest Vision, and was grateful there wouldn't be another for a while now.
He grabbed his bag, had packed it last night and made for his door, ambled along the hallway, nodding at greetings. Breakfast. Class. Lunch with Elliot Drake. More class. Grab a ride with Vane on his motorbike to hockey practice. Play. Lust after Stephen. Be ignored. Find dinner companions; dinner. Work on assignments. Bed.
Pushing open the stairwell door he found that suddenly Stephen was trotting down that last step to stand before him, nodding, "Good morning."
Nicholas stood frozen for a split second and Stephen paused briefly as well despite this being his usual reaction to Stephen. When he moved forward he avoided being too near to touch –because a nasty side effect of being so linked into the tune of all Unity was that his hyper-awareness of Stephen would trigger flitting images and sensations, like a miniature vision. Not anywhere as bad as the usual but bad enough he didn't want them.
"Good morning, Stephen," Nicholas answered awkwardly, belatedly. They fell into step together and he thought, Please, one date? Just one? I only get startled because you're the one person my abilities react to. And really, I'm not going to be around to bug you if you don't want to keep seeing me. I don't think my parents will even let me stay long enough to graduate so really you could just go out with me once and give me one more happy memory, just one— "See you at practice." Nicholas smiled as he turned toward the school courtyard buzzing with people and noise as every morning.
"Yeah," Stephen waved, turning for a different lecture hall. "See you later."
Nicholas firmly turned his back. He had been doing this so long, he should probably be used to it by now. This state of awkwardness and permanent little dread was just as normal as things were ever going to get.