The Shape of a Soul

Tara dropped back onto the bed, finally allowing herself to relax. Her eyes, with lids as surely weighted as though they had stones tied to them, closed. She knew she had been lucky that the birth had lasted only three hours. Her sister’s first child had taken nearly twelve to come into the world.

Still, exhaustion had made its way down to her bones. She had been preparing for bed when her water broke. For once she had been glad that her mother, Jean, lived just down the hall from her.

“It’s a boy,” the doctor said. “Congratulations.”

Tara forced her eyes open. She wanted to see her child, yes, but something in the doctor’s tone chilled her. He didn’t sound excited. He sounded resigned, or perhaps disappointed. “What’s wrong?” Tara demanded.

Between her legs, the doctor blinked. She could see his face, from her angle, but not her child. A desperate need to see her baby filled her. “Nothing is wrong, ma’am.”

“Why did you say it like that?” Tara asked. Jean’s grip tightened on Tara’s hand.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,’’ the doctor said. “I don’t mean to say it any particular way.” He stood. Tara saw her child for the first time. He hadn’t been cleaned yet. His skin had a pink-purple cast. His limbs moved spasmodically. Around his head, shining clean and untarnished, was a golden circlet.

“What is that?” Tara said, though she already knew the answer, in part. She returned Jean’s tightened grip. “Did you put that there?”

No,” the doctor said.

So many emotions roared through Tara’s body that they counteracted and demolished one another. She felt blank. She didn’t know what she should be feeling. Her son was Powered. To be born with something as strange as a golden circlet upon his head… he had to be. A Powered individual was rare and special. Her child would have abilities beyond those of most people. They might be great and terrible, or wonderful, or small and barely noticeable. Whatever his talents might be, they would certainly be a burden.

A nurse passed the doctor a small white wand, thicker at one end, with a small display which Tara couldn’t read from her bed. He passed the wand over her son’s head, though everyone in the room could already see that it would give a positive reading. A light above the display flashed green. “Confirmed. Mark down that he is Class-1 Powered.”

Class-1. That meant her son had been born with an excess of vital energy, which overflowed to grant him his talents. And the odd golden circlet upon his head, apparently. “Can I see him? Please?” Tara reached out for her child, tears in her eyes.

“Soon,” the doctor promised. “We have to take him for now. Get him cleaned up, and record his soul shape.”

“Can I just touch him?” Tara pleaded. “I just want to see him for a moment.”

The doctor hesitated, but he did come to her, stepping around the bed with her child cradled in his arm. She leaned forward. She reached out to touch her child; he was hers, and his own, and nobody else’s, regardless of what the law was going to require of him.

A bubble of guilt formed in her gut. Had she not voted in favor of the very laws that now governed her child’s life? Had she not thought, at the time, that requiring the analysis and registration of all Powered was to the benefit of all? Had she not argued with her friends in favor of requiring Powered to act when their talents could be of benefit to those around them?

She desperately wished to follow the doctor as he carried her child away from her, but her body was not yet done with her pregnancy. The nurse soothed her as her body prepared to expel her placenta.

Tara took Jean’s arm in her hand. “Go with him, please. Watch the analysis. Just… I want someone watching my baby.”

Jean nodded. “Okay.” She stroked Tara’s forehead. “Are you sure? I don’t want to leave you here alone, either.”

“I’m fine,” Tara insisted. “Just go with him.”

Jean left without further argument. She could be overly involved, and she worried a bit to much, but her intentions were always good. Tara was thankful for that. Her father had not been as kind. Nor had her child’s father.

Tara had read, online, about what would be happening to her child now. It hadn’t seemed so horrible, just reading about it in text. She told herself it wasn’t horrible, really. The only bad part was not getting to hold her child as soon as she might have otherwise. The laws required a child determined at birth to be Powered had to have their soul shape analyzed immediately, in case they should prove to be a threat to their parents or others around them. Once a way had been discovered to reliably determine whether a child was Powered before it was born, perhaps the procedure could be changed.

The doctor would place her baby in a specialized machine. Tara didn’t understand how it worked, and she doubted most other people did, either. It created a complex two-dimensional map of a being’s soul. Many attempts had been made to infer what that shape meant, but the only ones Tara knew to be successful were those that sought to determine what the being’s talents might be.

Even then, the science was still developing. Common talents, like strength beyond what would be physically possible or the ability to create barriers of force, were easy to identify. The the shapes of the soul that influenced their manifestation had been well studied. Less common talents, like teleportation, had comparatively less data, but there had been enough study done to identify those as well. Unique talents, a descriptor Tara expected to be applied to her son due to his golden circlet, were often impossible to fully decode at birth. Still, the data had to be collected so that future analyses could become more accurate.

The doctor had not returned, even once the nurses had finished cleaning Tara up. By another boon, she had not required any sort of stitches; in fact, until he had been revealed to be Powered, her son had been the ideal birth. The nurse would not let her walk to her child, so Tara insisted that she be brought to him in a wheelchair.

They found Jean standing outside a glass observation. The nurse left them with some murmured words to which Tara paid no mind at all. Her son lay encapsulated in a box of glass and metal. The doctor who had delivered her child watched closely as the soul shape appeared, bit by bit, on a large display inset into the wall. At a desk off to the side, another man sat. Tara presumed him to be the expert who would analyze the soul shape.

“Did you know about this?” Jean asked. “Did you know he would be Powered?”

“No,” Tara said, confused by the question. “How would I know?”

Jean shrugged. “They say a woman just feels it, sometimes. Besides, you would think the doctors would have seen that crown during the ultrasound.”

Tara hadn’t considered that. “Maybe. Who can say when it formed, though?”

The women stood in silence for a time, watching the soul shape appear. It was beautiful: a twisting map of curled white wisps, seeming solid in some places, yet airy and unformed in others. Complex whorls, protrusions, dips, and holes made it look like something designed by an alien mind. Yet, for all that it was incomprehensible to Tara, it represented her son.

“I think I’ll name him Chrysander,” Tara said.

“After your grandfather?” Jean sounded surprised.

“Yeah. One of the few good men in my life, you know?”

Jean grasped Tara’s shoulder. “I know.”

Her son would be good, too. She couldn’t read the soul shape. She didn’t know what any of the shapes or lines meant. Somehow, though, she saw that. She saw goodness in him, and she hoped it could survive the world.

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