From the Histories of the Preceptors
Theophanus sat before the children, tapping his ossified knuckles on the lectern. One by one, the children quieted themselves hearing the familiar rapping of him calling for their attention. Dutifully, each child sat before him, arranging themselves in four columns of three, precisely spaced one arm’s length apart.
“Who can recite the Principles for me?” asked the Preceptor. Gazing across the faces his young protégés, he watched most of his students avert their eyes. Yet when his met the impenetrably dark gaze of his smallest pupil, he knew she was prepared. With the slightest nod of his head, he invited her to begin.
“These are the Principles,” she said in a voice larger than it should have been. “Duty, above all. The sentient you shall not harm. Influence without revelation. Only a worthy adversary shall you destroy. Seek the self—if it may be found. Unto a friend, offer thy life. Truth is the wellspring; drink deeply of her waters.”
“And the Eighth, Calandra?” Theophanus asked.
“Die well,” she said.
When they had completed their time with Theophanus, each of the children departed to the labs. Without instruction, Calandra walked to the platform and stepped up nimbly. Sensors recorded her height and weight, the distance between her knees and ankles, her hips and knees, as well as her the length of her neck, and arms, along with the width of her chest and hips. Her growth since her last visit to the lab was notable. The soft chirp of the machine told her the machine had completed its examination. She stepped off gently.
The Preceptor pointed to the examination station. She adjusted herself within the chair, letting herself get as comfortable as she could be. Sharp flashes of light measuring her neural reaction time began flashing on the screen before her in a dancing symphony of hues and color. The preceptor tapped a note into the machine.
Before the series of mathematical problems began to flash across the screen, Calandra focused her attention deliberately. She slowed her heart rate with several deep breaths. Relaxing the muscles in her face and neck, she then slowed her respiration.
As the quantum physics and linear algebra equations began, she provided the proofs almost effortlessly, completing the series long before she should have. Again, the Preceptor made a note.
Continues to excel both in speed and accuracy.
Her final test was often the most daunting for Alaphin children. Over time, their preceptors had divined the deepest fears of their subjects. Some feared death. Others solitude or humiliation. Calandra feared abandonment along with the loss of the esteem—and the Preceptors had finally determined it.
Still sitting in the examination chair, images were flashed onto the screen of her mind.
A lost child.
Her pulse quickened slightly, but she quickly returned it to rest.
An image of her ailing mother.
Again, her pulse quickened, but returned to normal almost instantly.
Her heart raced wildly.
Her own image standing before him.
She struggled to remain seated, her feet shifting against the ground. Her face knotted with anxiety, somehow, she endured it. When the final image disappeared, she was a drowning child breaking the water’s surface a third time. She sucked in a deep gasping breath, treading water the waters of her soul.
“You have done well, Calandra,” said the Preceptor. “But you must examine this fear. Learn to accept it and see things as they are. With time and effort, you will prevail.”
Although Calandra’s performance on these examinations was unique, the process was the same for all Alaphin children. Long before her birth, the Magisterium had established protocols for taking one’s station in Alaphin society. Children submitted themselves to genetic testing, brain imaging, and their capacity to recover from mental and physical exertion. They were tested for their ability to resist fleeing in times of danger, the capacity for patience, empathy, as well as the arts, mathematics and manual dexterity.
As Calandra departed the lab, the preceptor made a final cryptic entry into his records.
Is this the foretold one?