2272: Six years after the Telepath War. Chicago.
Emily stepped off the elevator and into a tastefully decorated waiting area. Her glance took in the room, the people – a receptionist putting paperwork in order, a youngish woman idly tapping her fingers against her chair’s armrest. Normals, all of them, she could feel. It was impossible to tell nowadays who was a telepath and who was not, from the way people dressed.
She noted the exits – an old habit, one she could never discard.
The finger-tapping woman had an umbrella with her, Emily noted. The local weather had been cold and wet enough for her gloved hands to escape notice outside. Inside would be an entirely different story.
She was here because an acquisitions editor had extended an invitation, but until the contract was signed, and it became in the publishing imprint’s best interest to treat her well, she was wary that the normals might notice her and take exception to her presence. Not to her behavior – Emily was educated, professional, and could be polite when she needed to be – but to her simple existence. And to her gloves.
It had happened before. It would happen again.
Hopefully it wouldn’t happen today.
She checked in with the receptionist and sat down to wait. Twenty minutes later, she was ushered into a meeting room, where Harold Yates, a smiling man in his mid-forties, sat behind an oak desk. A tidy stack of paper lay in front of him, and a yellow legal-pad style notebook, as well as a flat digital device of some sort. Emily had never seen one like it before.
He stood as the door closed gently behind her. He started to reach out for a handshake, but paused awkwardly, seeing her gloves.
He turned the gesture into a nodding sort of bow instead.
“Ms. Harris,” the editor began, seating himself once more. “Or, Emily – may I call you Emily? I’m so glad you could make it.”
“So am I,” Emily said. She’d taken the train into the city that morning, nervous but optimistic.
“You’re out of the inclement weather, you know. You can take off those gloves in here.”
“That quite all right,” she said, sitting. “I’d prefer not to.”
An awkward silence hung in the air as Mr. Yates considered this.
What are you, some kind of loyalist? she knew he wanted to ask, but he held back.
“I understand my project piqued your interest,” Emily offered.
“Oh, yes, about that. Telepath stories are great business at the moment – and your work shows enormous potential. We’d like to sign you on, provisionally you understand, for a similar project.”
Emily frowned and started to ask a question, but the editor was still going. His voice ran over hers.
“It would be a marvelous addition to our line. They’re strong sellers, but this could outdo them all. A new manuscript, written by someone in a position to see it all from the inside! A story about loyalty and betrayal, one that focuses on the pain of life in the Corps, before the war.”
“What?” Emily was stunned. “You want…”
“We already have plenty of books about the heroes of the Telepath War, or as you perhaps call it–” and he glanced at her gloves, “the Crisis. We already have dozens of books about the lives of Byron Gordon and Lyta Alexander, books about glamour and danger of life on the run from the Corps, dozens of books about families split up when the Corps took their children. But we don’t have any voices from the inside, and that’s where you come in.”
“Look,” she said, holding up a hand to buy time as her thoughts raced. “Perhaps I misunderstood. I thought you loved my manuscript as-is?”
“Oh, it’s fantastic,” Yates assured her, though she knew there was something wrong. “There’s a lot of emotional depth in there. You’ve collected so many stories in your work, ‘Behind the Gloves.’ Yes yes, that’s what our readers want to see, an intimate look at the real lives of telepaths before the war, one that takes them inside the opaque culture of the Corps. You grew up in that culture, and we can use that!” He tapped the digital device with the end of a ballpoint pen. “An expose, of sorts. We just can’t publish this.”
For several seconds, Emily stared at him, her own heartbeat suddenly loud in her ears. She’d labored for so long, interviewed so many people, and…
She rallied. “Telepath stories – in your words – are good business. Your imprint specializes in them!” It was one of the reasons she’d sent her manuscript to this office in the first place.
Yates’ smile dimmed, and his face flushed with embarrassment. Normals were often embarrassed in the presence of telepaths – he was realizing she would quickly discern the truth of his intentions, whatever song and dance he performed to flatter her into submission.
“It’s true that we’re looking for books by telepaths, about their lives, but not... like this.”
Emily felt her frustration rising. She took a deep breath. Under the lip of the table, where she’d placed her hands in her lap, she clenched them into fists. The war had cost her almost everything – her job, her home, the company of her lover – but it hadn’t taken her pride.
She breathed again, slowly. Met Yates’ gaze.
“What I wrote is the truth,” she told him, simply. “You don’t want to publish the truth?”
The editor sighed heavily. “Look, Emily... Can I tell you something?” He didn’t wait for her reply, but tapped the digital device again. “It’s professionally written. It’s a clean copy. You’ve got enough sources and citations to put us mortals to shame. But it won’t sell.”
Her breath caught in her chest.
Be calm. Be calm.
Try a new tack.
“Mr. Yates,” she said, and even as she spoke she noticed how steady her voice was. “How can you say it won’t sell? Turn on any news station across the Earth Alliance, and what are they talking about? Bester’s trial in The Hague. The news calls it the ‘Trial of the Century.’ You don’t think readers would be interested-”
“No.” He shook his head. “That’s just it, Emily. Your people lost the war. Get it? You lost. The Senate’s abolished the Corps. The public wants stories about life in the Corps, but not apologia. Your heroes are war criminals. You can come in here wearing gloves, but it doesn’t change a thing.”
“It doesn’t change the truth, no.”
“Emily, the public wants stories about telepaths, but they want - and we want - stories about telepaths who resisted the Corps, telepaths who died fighting the Corps, about normals who fought alongside them or who hid telepaths in the basement. I like your project because it offers readers a chance to look inside the Corps and see the pain of life under the regime. But you’ve taken this in another direction, one that will make some of our readers uncomfortable.”
He took a moment to collect himself. When he spoke again, his voice was increasingly strident.
“Emily, normals buy our books. You don’t show them rescuing telepaths, you show them giving telepaths a hard time! You talk about the laws passed by the Senate that keep telepaths down, you talk about harassment on the street. They want to see teens running away so the Corps won’t find them, yet right here in the beginning you’ve got a girl running away from home to join the Corps instead, because her landlord and neighbors are bigots. I don’t see a single story here about normals rescuing telepaths from the Corps. Hell, by the time you’re through, you’ve got the Corps saving the world!”
“But we did," Emily pointed out, "during the Shadow War. If it weren't for the Corps and the brave sacrifices we made, you and I wouldn’t be sitting here having this conversation.”
“Emily...” he pleaded, but she had had enough. She pushed her chair back and stood.
“It’s the truth, Mr. Yates. It all is. Do you know how many people I interviewed to write this book? How many stories I collected? How many–”
“I don’t care what’s true!” he interrupted, his voice raising nearly to a shout. “I care what I can sell!” He glanced toward the door, and his voice dropped. “Can’t you… just accept that, and write a different book? Half from the Corps’ point of view, if you insist, but half from the other side’s? A book with... balance?”
“You mean a false moral equivalence. You mean a book that puts anarchists, traitors and terrorists on a pedestal and vilifies those of us who sought to cast off our oppressors establish sovereignty in our rightful homeworld – Earth.” Yates paled. She squared her shoulders, straightened her back. “If they want the ‘other side,’ let them watch ISN. Let them turn on the news. Those puppets are doing their best to erase history, to re-write it and absolve normals of all sin by blaming it on us. Do you know what children learn in school now, Mr. Yates? Do you know how bad it’s got? Dammit, someone has to speak up.”
She knew she’d crossed the line. Would he call for security and have her removed? Would he have her arrested?
It had happened before. It would happen again.
Hopefully it wouldn’t happen today.
He was shaking his head. “The deal I’ve offered is the only one you’ll get.”
“Then I’ll go to another publisher. And another. And if they won’t take it, I’ll publish it myself.” She pushed the chair in, stepped to the door, and reached for the handle. Then she glanced back and looked Yates in the eye. “The truth will prevail. I’m patient, Mr. Yates. The day will come.”