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Kaia's Story

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2228.  New York City. 

            Asma Chandyo, award-winning actress, sat in the studio of the late night talk show. [1]

            “The rumors are true,” the twenty-eight-year-old star said, reluctantly. “The paparazzi photos you’ve all seen aren’t fake. Last year I did develop telepathy.”

            Gasps emanated from the studio audience.

            “But you’re still working,” the host replied, shocked. “You’re still making films! And showing us all your lovely hands!”

            She waved. “I am! That’s due to something called ‘suppression therapy’… have you heard of it?”

            “I think so. You go on special drugs so you can’t, uh… read minds?” [2]

            She nodded. “Exactly. I take an injection once a week. That’s what those photos were about… A doctor comes to my house to give me the injection. [3] That’s it!” She motioned. “I’m not telepathic. Not at all.”

            “Just like that?”

            She nodded.

            “Are there any side effects to the drugs?”

            “They can make some people tired. [4] But I’ve been fortunate. I have as much energy as ever!” [5]

            “And we’ve all been fortunate to still have you making films!” 

***** 

            Kaia Artemis Bradley collapsed in the locker room at school. Paramedics brought her to the emergency room.

            “Black female, age fifteen, lapsed suddenly into unconsciousness and came around in a highly agitated state… cause unknown…”

            The doctors stabilized and sedated her, then consulted her parents.

            “Does she have any history of seizures? Fainting spells? Do her symptoms run in the family?”

            No, they said. Kaia was a healthy girl.

            The doctors told them her illness was somehow neurological – Kaia’s EEG was abnormal. After deliberation, they called in a medically trained telepath to assist with the diagnosis.[6] The Corps had a small office downstairs.

            “I don’t have to scan her,” the woman said flatly, from the doorway. “I could feel her down the hall. She’s a strong one.”

            “You mean, she’s one of you?” asked the resident. “Are you sure?”

            “What kind of question is that?”

            The resident looked nervously over to the doctor.

            The doctor nodded. “I’ve heard of this before,” he said, “though I’ve never seen it first-hand. Though most telepaths develop psi gradually, some of the strong ones can develop it suddenly. They can even pass out from sensory overload.”[7]

            Kaia was transferred to the Psi Corps medical center.[8]

*****

            The lights were still too loud, the sounds too bright, the smells still hurt, and the bed sheets felt like she was lying on sandpaper, but in the new hospital everyone’s mind was very, very quiet. When the staff talked to her, it didn’t hurt. They told her she was going to be OK, they were looking after her.

            She wanted to know what happened.

            Your mind is changing.

            Tenderness.

            In the first hospital, she’d felt little concern for her well-being – moments of concern punctuated a haze of professional nonchalance. Most of the staff had walked by, or drifted in and out, busy with other tasks. This patient needed this, that patient needed that.

            Slowly, as the sedation wore off, she became more aware of her surroundings: a bed, a small room with dim lights. Calming, abstract paintings. A sink. Medical panels blinking on the walls. Sheets made of cloth, not sandpaper.           

            Air ventilation hissed in the background.

            Eventually she noticed that the staff were telepaths. They all wore gloves – black leather or latex – and their medical coats were embroidered with the psi insignia of the Corps. She screamed for her parents.

            “Let me out of here! Let me go!”

            She tried to get up and run out the door, but found she couldn’t stand. The staff propped her up and helped her back to the bed. A senior doctor was called in to have “the talk” with her. Several medical interns trailed him like a multiethnic cluster of ducklings.

            “I’m Dr. Singh,” he said. “You’re here because this morning, you manifested telepathy.”

            That was simply too much to believe – there were no telepaths in her family. She’d never even met a telepath, aside from the testers in school. “I did not!” she shouted, sitting up. “Help! Let me go!”

            “Yes you did, Kaia. Your record says that you fell unconscious in the locker room and were brought to the hospital for normals. When they figured out what was happening, they transferred you here.”

            “I’m not a telepath!”

            Rather than “debate” the matter with her, he simply looked at her and in an instant, “told” her – without any words – that what happened to her was not uncommon, especially for telepaths who were very strong. He told her that manifesting is usually a frightening time, especially for young people from normal families, who don’t expect it. He told her she wasn’t going through it alone, that the Corps was there to help her. His affect was warm, affectionate – fatherly even, as if she wasn’t a new patient, but his own daughter.

            She blinked.

            “There, see?” he asked.

            “Your lips didn’t move. How did you do that?”

            “You did that.”

            “Me? I didn’t do anything.”

            “Didn’t you, though?”

            It felt automatic, reflexive, like raising your arm to catch a ball, or being in foreign language class when the teacher switched to English. She hadn’t “done” anything at all – she’d simply understood.

            “I want my mom,” she said.

            You can see your parents soon, when you’re well enough.

            Understanding was so unconscious, it was as if there was no “how” to the process at all. Could things happen without a “how?” She wasn’t sure what to call a subject, object, or verb, like they always talked about in English class. It just was.

            The doctor took a step forward, and she reflexively looked him closely in the eye, as he asked her to.

            But again, he hadn’t asked aloud.

            That’s right, Kaia. Look at me. Pay close attention and follow me. Do what I’m doing.

            Kaia did her best to copy what she felt the doctor doing in his mind. It was almost like a sorting game – in, out, front, back.

            In – the feel of the doctor’s mind. Out, the background buzz of the city. In, the feel of her own mind. Out, the interns.

            Some of the pain stopped. She realized she was hungry.

            Very good… See how to do it? It’s not hard, is it? Let’s keep going.

            They continued the game. After five minutes, she spoke up again.

            “My head hurts. My everything hurts. I hurt in places I didn’t know I could hurt. There is so much noise – out there, in me, and I can’t even tell the difference, because outside is all inside. My mind feels like an ant colony. I feel like someone just threw me in a blender and turned it up to maximum volume. …And that doesn’t even make sense.”

            The interns scribbled down notes in their electronic notepads.

            Dr. Singh nodded in a warm, fatherly manner. Don’t worry, Kaia, you’re not alone in this. We’re all here behind you. We’ve all been through it, too, though not all of us quite so suddenly.

            By “we,” Kaia knew the doctor was referring not just to the pack of interns, but a much larger community.

            “We?” she wondered. She had just become part of a “we?”

            The interns nodded, and Kaia could see that one of the young women had also been raised by normal parents and found out she was a telepath quite unexpectedly in middle school.

            Kaia didn’t know how she knew that. It was just there.

            “I want to go home.”

            First we need to make sure you can walk, and keep down solid food.

            I don’t care if I puke, I wanna go home.

            You’re not going anywhere till you’re fit to do so. You’re going to build up your ((telepathic)) strength first.

            Dr. Singh had some food brought up to her room. Then he and the interns stayed with Kaia. She couldn’t believe she was getting so much attention, and wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not. She wasn’t left alone for a moment.

            She found it difficult to focus on eating because of all the chaos in her mind, so the doctor helped her by gently blocking it out. She really appreciated the help, even if she had no idea how he was doing it.

            When she’d finished eating, they practiced some more. The exercises were hard work, and Kaia kept losing focus.

            How am I supposed to be able to tell one thing from the next? It all mixes together.

            That will come with practice.

            This is so overwhelming.

            OK, let’s try a different exercise. Did you play with clickbricks as a child?[9]

            She nodded.

            They went through a visualization exercise, with Kaia constructing a “wall” in her mind that kept the flood of information out.

            That helps, but it takes a lot of concentration!

            It becomes automatic with practice.

            Do I have to do this wall thing all the time now?

            You’ll find a method that works best for you, and then you’ll be able to see just what you want to see, and keep the rest out. Eventually you won’t have to think about it, except in rare circumstances.

            Kaia was impressed by the doctor’s mastery. To him, it was as automatic as breathing.

            I feel like… an infant, she said. ((Helpless. Overwhelmed.))

            He nodded slightly. You will learn this, Kaia, all telepaths do. Do you ride a bike?

            She nodded.

            Remember how hard that was at the beginning? You fell off, right? Eventually, though, you no longer had to think about balance anymore because it came automatically. You just get on the bike and go, right? Your legs build up strength. We have to build up your mental strength.

            For the rest of that day, staff came in to check in on Kaia and give her exercises in fifteen-minute sessions.

            “I’m tired,” she complained after the fourth session.

            “These exercises will help,” said the nurse. “We’ve developed them to help young people in your situation. Eventually it will become easy to sort out background thoughts. You’ll look back at today and wonder what you found so difficult. You’re very strong, Kaia, and your mind’s taking in a lot more information than before. That’s very overwhelming if you don’t know how to process it. But you’ll get it with time.”

            Kaia again wished she could just go home. She wondered what her parents thought was happening to her. She hadn’t seen them since that morning, when she’d left for school.

            “You need to build up some strength before you can leave. Here we are all trained. We know how to regulate our thoughts so as not to overwhelm you. Out there, you’ll have no such help. If you don’t know how to block properly, you might pass out again. New York is a very big city. Even with all my training, I still find some things a challenge… Midtown at noon?” She shook her head. “That’s a headache.”

            Kaia laughed.

            “Your parents have been notified. They should be here soon.” 

***** 

            Now, in the Psi Corps medical center, Kaia thought about the actress, Asma Chandyo, as she watched her parents talk to the doctors. Asma Chandyo had gone on this “suppression therapy,” hadn’t she? So she could keep making movies?

            Kaia’s parents reminded her of mice in a hospital of cats.

            “We’re taking Kaia home,” was their only position. “Whatever it takes, we’re getting her out of here right now and taking her home.”

            Kaia sat on the bed and wondered why they were so scared. She agreed that she wanted to go home, but she also wanted answers. Why was she now telepathic? What did this mean for the rest of her life? Who was going to help her once she left the hospital? She was terrified, and the only people who had those answers were the ones her parents wanted to pull her away from. And those people seemed really nice, even if they were in Psi Corps.

            The doctors tried to explain some options to Kaia’s parents, but they fought with the doctors and said no to everything. No, you are not taking our daughter. No, you’re not going to make her into one of you. No, we’re going to take her home today, whatever we have to do about it.

            The more the doctors tried to talk, the more agitated her parents became. Their intense emotions made Kaia’s head hurt. She tried to block things out, as the doctors had instructed her to do, but she wasn’t very successful.

            She started to cry. Misunderstanding, her parents thought she was crying because she hated the hospital and wanted to go home – but those were her parents’ thoughts, not her own. She knew she was only crying because their thoughts hurt so much.

            The doctors were so calm, so experienced. Smooth, like stones in water. She wished she could be like that, and she wanted her parents to be quiet, or at least to continue their argument far away. But oblivious, her parents continued to protest. Kaia was not joining the Corps, they insisted. The doctors reluctantly mentioned “suppression therapy,” the same drug that Asma Chandyo took.

            “I don’t wanna go on any drugs,” Kaia told her parents. “Didn’t you hear them? That stuff’s dangerous!”

            “No one said anything about the drugs being dangerous, Kaia.”

            “They didn’t? But I just heard it!”

            Her father shook his head. “When you’re eighteen, you can make your own decisions. Until then, we’re making this decision for you. You’re coming home, Kaia.”

            “There’s no choice,” her mother said. “If you don’t go on those drugs, you can’t go back to school with your friends. You have to go to a Psi Corps boarding school. And you can’t come home in the summer – you have to live there until graduation.”

            “I don’t want to go on any drugs! Didn’t you hear what the doctor said?”

            “Kaia, this matter is over. We’re your parents, and that is the end of it.”

            “This is my choice!”

            “No Kaia, it’s not.”

            Kaia was given an injection, and paperwork to take to her school principal. As quickly as the world had become three-dimensional, it became two-dimensional again. The doctors seemed to feel sorry for her.

            On the ride home, she sat in the car expressionless – silent, exhausted, confused, and angry. Her parents didn’t care what she wanted – they were going to do whatever they wanted, no matter what. And what did they know about what she was going through?

            She watched the buildings go by, and held back tears. She didn’t want to cry in front of her parents. Her mind went back to the lessons she’d learned at the medical center, all the exercises she’d done with the doctors and nurses. She thought about how special she’d felt, how valuable. Just because her parents couldn’t do what she could, didn’t mean they had the right to take it away from her.

            She silently prayed.

 

[1] This scene is patterned on the story of Anna Keck. See Gregory Keyes, Dark Genesis, p. 46-47. In 2117, Anna was a middle-aged, famous actress who discovered, once the genetic test came out, that she was a weak or latent telepath. She discussed this on the DiPeso show (a talk show).

[2] See Tim Dehass, “The Psi Corps and You!” /Babylon 5 #11/, where sleepers are referred to as “suppression therapy.”

[3] Legacies, “The Psi Corps and You!” /Babylon 5 #11/

[4] Id.

[5] Gregory Keyes, Final Reckoning, p. 248. Bester has no side-effects on the drugs (while in prison). “And so he did, stood still while the needle pricked his arm and the sleepers went in, as they had for ten years now. He barely felt the stupid feeling spread. He had never had the extreme reaction to the sleepers that some did-the listlessness, the deeply drugged feeling. No, they left his mind pretty much intact, so he could be acutely aware of how crippled he was.”

[6] Psychiatric scans are mentioned in Eyes. Children’s hospitals also sometimes have telepaths on staff (And Now for a Word).

[7] Legacies

[8] The Corps has separate medical facilities. See Gregory Keyes, Deadly Relations (Bester hospitalized, necroscans in telepath hospital), p. 168-172, 181-184 (necroscans in telepath hospital), and 194-196 (Ysidra Tapia hospitalized). In contrast, see Deadly Relations, p. 186-189 (necroscan in normal hospital (“He had chosen a mundane, in a mundane hospital, volunteering through the court system”), though Bester is kept overnight in the normal hospital when he suffers a heart attack during the necroscan). Possibly also implied in The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father, in the scene where Bester interacts with Franklin in Medlab, and seems somewhat surprised that Franklin is willing to treat him.

[9] In-universe, what we call "Legos" are referred to as "click-builders" or "clickbricks." See Dark Genesis, p. 129, and Final Reckoning, p. 77. See also Legacies: "Gently Alisa, calm down. Do as I say, and block out the voices inside your head. Relax. Imagine a wall inside your mind. Build it brick by brick." "I can't!" "Yes you can! Focus! See the wall. I'll go away as the wall goes higher. You'll only hear what you want to hear. Yes, like that. Just like that."