THE EMPATH'S TALE
She had always preferred the places near the shield. That space right between the trees and the invisible barrier, that made her hair stand up and her jewelry twitch like it was dancing. The leaves on the trees gently moving in a breeze that hisses like static; a piezoelectric current that held the air in and the world out.
Mara would stick her hand out, a hairsbreadth from the shield, and marvel at the little blue arcs that lanced from her fingers into the air, dissipating like magic. Today, there is a herd of musk cephs resting just outside, and she giggles at the sounds they make, muffled by the oxygen barrier. Their grunts and coos are warped, making them sound like something out of a holovid.
The next day they are back, and she runs outside the Academy to put her face up close, perhaps to make a friend. A little one gets curious and lazily rises to meet her gaze. His eyes are beautiful, and the nitrogen from his breath passes through the shield into her nostrils, delighting her.
But his head gets too close. The shield shocks him badly, knocking him to his side, and he wails. Mara feels the pain in her gut, before she smells the ozone in the air. It makes her sick to her stomach like she only feels in class.
When she tells a senior Empath what happens, he gives her one of those patronizing smiles the seniors always give the crechelings, and tells her to stay away from the shield wall. That if she doesn’t end up hurting someone outside, she’ll just end up hurting herself. That she’ll understand after her first graduation, that it’s obvious in which Guild she’ll be placed.
The guilt makes her queasy when she’s supposed to be asleep, so in the middle of the night she tiptoes to the Academy doors, and ends up back at the space between the cage and her little slice of planet. Mara grits her teeth and presses both palms against the hissing air, and for just a moment, she feels like she can really hear Apsyntion. Before she’s thrown backwards with a crack.
Her vision returns in a couples of minutes, and she’s left on her back, with the telltale tingles in her limbs where the blood is rushing back. Shieldshock is a stupid way to describe it, she thinks.
When she can stand, she quietly sneaks back into the Academy, curling into her bed with the other prospects. They are wide awake, with pain in their stomachs, tingles in their limbs, and the scent of ozone in their noses.