Fantasy Story Chapter 1

by radimentary

“Where are we going, father?” The child, a reserved, dark-haired boy of eleven tightened his grip on his father’s arm. He had stayed with his father at the university many times before, but rarely this late.

“Do you know, son, why I taught you mathematics?”

“Because mathematics teaches precision and imagination, father.” The boy recited. He felt the same old lecture coming on and pouted, simultaneously forgetting his fear as he trotted along beside his father down the corridor of the seventh floor.

“Yes, child. Precision and imagination. Now that you have mastered elementary mathematics, you are ready for the family secret.”

“Secret, father?” He feigned surprise. The boy knew something was afoot – his father wouldn’t take him up here for no reason at all. His father always had reasons.

“Tell me son, do you believe in magic?”

The boy smiled and paused for a moment. “All sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. But if you mean fireballs and alchemy, no.”

“And why not? Why should a man not be able to conjure flame above his hand in the air, why should lead not be transmutable into gold?”

“Fire is rapid oxidation. There is nothing in air that can be oxidized, so where could fire come from? Lead is an extremely stable element, so even if in theory a series of radiation events could turn it into gold, actually achieving something like this would be expensive and dangerous.” The boy smugged, waiting for an approving word from his father. His tutors had taught him chemistry just last summer.

His father said nothing, but stopped and took them into an empty lab. He turned on the lights and closed and locked the doors. Then, without a word, he backed away and held out his right hand.

His father uttered a few garbled words, and there was a soft bang, and a small flame appeared about six inches above his hand, hovered for a few seconds, and died off. The boy smelled smoke faintly, and saw bits of ash drop into his father’s hand. He gaped aloud.

“Uhhhh.”

“And how do you explain that using chemistry?”

The boy thought fast. This was a lab – there was plenty of equipment nearby. His eyes searched the lab benches.

“I could have done it anywhere else, son, it’s not a trick.”

He squinted in frustration – this must be another test. He walked up to his father and searched his sleeves, then his pockets.

“Aha!” He pulled out a blank piece of paper from his father’s left pocket.

“But…how? And what the heck were you saying? You can’t possibly have me believe that scraping chords in your windpipe together in a certain pattern produced FIRE! That’s just doubly unbelievable!” He was a little bit hysterical.

His father chuckled. “There was no trick, son. All right, I admit, the incantation I made up on the spot. But the fire was real.”

“Yes, I know, I saw it. But how? And it does have to do with the piece of paper doesn’t it? Well, let’s say you palmed the paper in your hand the whole way up – but no, that’s not right, I was holding onto that hand – and how did you keep it burning? And how could you have gotten it to rise several inches into the air? I can imagine palming it back and snuffing it out in your pocket afterwards, but everything else is incomprehensible! And there aren’t even burn marks!”

“Son, you have always been bright, to say the least. But there are things people can do still beyond your imaginings. Magic runs in our blood, my son, real magic, like levitation and fireballs and alchemy!” His eyes glowed and he seemed to stand up straighter, larger, in the child’s imagination, like an angel spreading his wings.

The boy sat down and closed his eyes. Obviously some part of this was nonsense, but the fireball had been real. It’d even smelled real. Either his father was messing with his brain, which he doubted, or else he was dreaming. He pinched himself and nothing happened.

“Are you still incredulous, son? Do you need more proof?”

“No, it’s ok. We can do that later. Now you need to explain a couple things to me.” There was a whole lot of science that needed to be adjusted if conjuring fire in thin air were possible.

“Of course. Go on.”

“Your claim is that you and I have a gene which allows us to make fireballs out of thin air, correct?”

“To be precise, son, our family has a Y-linked gene that gives us a small additional gland within the pituitary which allows our brains to control the matter around us at the atomic level. That’s how I moved bits of carbon into the air and combusted it with oxygen.”

“I can – with some effort – imagine how such a complicated gene could have evolved. But a magic gene would be ridiculously successful in the gene pool. How is it that magic people didn’t outcompeted nonmagic, you know, Muggles, instantly?”

“Because, my dear boy, magic is also ridiculously dangerous,” his eyes softened for a second. “Imagine, for a moment, that I had moved the carbon from this piece of paper”, he held it out for effect, “a few inches too short, and tried to oxidize it then.”

The boy squinted his brow in thought, and it slowly dawned on him. “You…would have…moved it directly into your hand? And…oxidized it with oxygen in your blood?”

“Yes, a quick and ugly death. Magic requires precision and imagination. Precision to get exactly what you want – a centimeter off often means catastrophe – and imagination to think of all the things that can go wrong, and all the safer and more efficient ways to get things done with less magic.

“Now, imagine what happens when a two-year-old toddler has this kind of power. Imagine a two-year-old magic child uses his power to move something – anything – directly into his own body. Imagine that this child did not have a vigilant and powerfully magical father who could remove said object and repair damage done to his organs with magic before it was too late. That is the fate that used to befall most magic boys.”

The boy furrowed his brow at this gruesome image. “Used to? Why no longer?”

“We are the last, my son – ”

The boy’s eyes widened in horror.

“No, son, that is not what I mean. There used to be many of us, hundreds or thousands. We raised our sons carefully, and accidents became rare as technology and medical science progressed to help us with our efforts. But even so – it was not a good life. We lived in fear that we would hurt people with our power in anger. We were afraid to sleep too deeply – some with darker dreams maimed or killed their lovers in their sleep.

“Then, one day, one man found a cure. That man was your grandfather.”

“A…cure? There are no known cures for genetic diseases – even if you disabled the magic gland, it would reappear in your sons, right?” The boy was lost in thought again.

“Where is your imagination, my son? Have you not heard of in vitro fertilization? Can you not imagine what a powerful magician can do with an electron microscope, his own sperm, a profound knowledge of cell biology and the human genome? Your grandfather spent two decades pinpointing the magic gene, and another three years perfecting his technique. I will not go into the details, but he achieved such incredible precision that he could splice a normal non-magic allele into any given sperm cell’s DNA and forcibly fertilize an egg with it.”

The boy began to nod. What a profoundly creative yet simple solution! “And so in combination with modern technology we cured everyone! But – why not his own children? Why would he let his own descendants suffer a disease he’d spent half his life trying to cure?”

“That’s a story for another day, child. Your mother’s probably worried by now.” Through the window the sun’s last rays had already died away. The boy pouted but nodded, and followed his father back out of the building. The whole time he was reeling from shock and a sense of overwhelming possibility. The power to manipulate matter at the atomic level! He’d be a superhero! He let out a small whoop of delight as they came out of the revolving doors, running ahead of his father into the brightly lighted square.

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