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Andy's Story (1)

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September 2262. Somewhere in the Greater Chicago suburbia.

             Andy Mora tried to stop, but it kept happening – he’d find himself humming along to the songs in other people’s heads, or chiming in on climatic moments of stories he hadn’t yet heard.  Or he’d laugh at jokes before they were finished, turn around before people called his name, answer questions before he was asked.

            Leo was the first to finally say something. “You know, Andy, that’s really freaky.”

            “You were just going to say it anyway, Leo.”

            “So? It’s not right! Stop it!”

            When he raised his hand to answer the question his teacher was about to ask, he could feel everyone staring at him.

            “Andy,” she said, "you couldn’t possibly know what I’m about to say. I haven’t asked the question yet.”

            So he put his hand down and tried to laugh it off.

            Yet it seemed that the second he stopped concentrating, his mind was acting up again. Confused, scared, he didn’t know how to stop doing it – it was all reflexive, automatic, like reading a piece of paper shoved under his nose. He didn’t even know when he was saying something “wrong” until he’d already said it.

            He wanted it all to stop, but it didn’t. It just got worse.

            “Watch where you’re going, sicko!” shouted Patrick as he stuck his foot out in front of Andy and tripped him in the corridor. With blond hair in a military buzz cut and a perpetual sneer on his round face, Patrick looked every bit as mean as he acted. “You’re a freak, Mora!”

            Andy’s friends laughed as he stood up. Only Misha had mixed feelings, and he looked away, pretending that nothing was happening.

            “Keep it up, Mora,” Patrick taunted, hauling his light brown satchel up onto his shoulder. “The Psi Corps will come for you and you’ll never see your family again. They’re coming for you.”

            Misha spoke up. “Shut up Patrick. Andy’s just lucky sometimes. He’s no more of a telepath than you are. We’ve all been tested. Leave him alone.”

            But under the constant taunting of Patrick and his buddies, Andy’s friends began to drift away. One day, Andy was sitting in the stands and studying math while waiting for a track meet to start. He laughed to himself, but everyone ignored him.

            Geoff closed his book a few moments later to chat with Victor, then looked back to it.

            “Oh, crap,” Geoff mumbled to himself, “my bookmark fell out. Where was I?”

            Andy looked up from his homework and turned around in the bleachers. “You’re at the part where Tom shows up at his own funeral, and the preacher’s like, ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow – SING! – and put your hearts in it!’ and everybody starts singing. That’s a really funny scene.”

            Geoff and everyone else in earshot looked at Andy with shock and horror.

            “What?” Andy asked, suddenly embarrassed.

            “You’re not in my English class. And you’ve never even read Tom Sawyer.”

            “So?”

            “So?!”

            “You asked me where you were in the book, Geoff! You asked me! It’s not my fault if you read something funny.”

            “I wasn’t asking you! I was talking to myself!”

            “Andy’s a freak,” said Mike.

            “I don’t want you sitting next to me anymore,” Geoff said, and stood and walked further down the stands.

            “Stay out of people’s heads, Andy,” Victor said, scared. “That’s not right.”

            “I didn’t do anything! I swear!” Andy got up and took a couple steps towards Geoff.

            “Stay away from me,” Geoff said from down the bleachers. “Just stay away from me.”

            From then on, the relationship between Andy and his friends was different. He noticed Geoff and Mike turn and walk the other way whenever he approached. He tried to sit with them at lunch, but there was always some excuse.

            “Sorry Andy, we’re holding this seat for Misha.”

            No you’re not, Andy thought. He knew it was a lie.

            He ate his lunch alone, in the back of the cafeteria. It’ll pass, he kept telling himself. They’ll get over it… we’ve all been friends forever, since cub scouts. They’re just afraid of Patrick.

            But the next day, his friends made sure to pick a table with just enough chairs for them, and no room for him at all.

*****

            That he might be telepathic raised more questions than answers. No telepaths lived in town. He’d never even seen one in person, other than the testers who had showed up to test students in kindergarten and again at the start of middle school.[1] Telepathy testing had been mandatory in schools for about a century, but Andy didn’t have a clear idea what happened to kids if they tested positive.

            He couldn’t really be a telepath, he figured – there were no telepaths in his family, and didn’t you have to be born that way, or have some gene?[2] Hadn’t he already been tested for it? The tests had come back as expected – normal. Everyone else’s always had, too.

            He couldn’t be a telepath.

            History class had barely mentioned telepaths. Every timeline had the obligatory dates – April 12, 2256, Psi Corps founded[3] – but there wasn’t much more offered than that. No telepaths who had lived in the past hundred years were even named. The only telepath in Andy’s entire text was William Karges, a bodyguard to then-President Robinson, who had been fatally shot by an assassin while pulling her to safety,[4] and whose death had inspired her to pass equal opportunity laws[5] to create the Corps, to keep telepaths safe.[6]

            “Why do telepaths go to separate schools?” Andy had asked his history teacher, after class one day.

            “Why do you ask?”

            He shrugged. “Just curious. Our class reader doesn’t say a lot.”

            “Isn’t it obvious?” the teacher replied coldly. “It’s because they cheat.”

            Andy didn’t understand. Normals cheated, too, didn’t they? And kids who were caught cheating weren’t sent to separate schools, they were just given bad grades, and made to stay after school.       

            Since that day on the bleachers, Andy had developed more control. It wasn’t difficult now to know what others were reading and writing. Seeing what others were writing on their exams was as easy as looking up at the board.

            What if I’m really a telepath, and the teachers accuse me of cheating? he wondered nervously. Will I be kicked out of school?

            Once known, an answer couldn’t be unknown. If he so much as paid attention in the wrong way, at the wrong time, to the wrong thing…

            No no no, that would be bad. Really bad.

            The problem was that trying not to pay attention to something only made him pay more attention to it.

            With horror, Andy realized he could be accused of cheating even if his answers were wrong, so long as they looked too much like another classmate’s. Terrified, he started intentionally writing nonsense on his tests or leaving questions blank. He couldn’t write anything at all without risking punishment, both for himself and for his classmates. Failing, it seemed, was the only safe thing to do.

            His coach pulled him aside one day. “Andy, you had good grades all last year, and now your teachers have told me you’ve started getting D’s. Is everything all right at home?”

            He shrugged, pretending he didn’t care.

            “Your guidance counselor is worried about you. So am I. This isn’t like you.”

            Another shrug.

            His parents, too, were concerned, but he only told them he didn’t know why he was doing badly in school. His math teacher asked him to come for extra help twice a week, and Andy obediently did so, even though he already knew the material she was teaching.

            He sat in class every day and watched the autumn leaves stirring in the breeze, tuning out the teacher and the other students. He felt like one of those leaves, blown off the tree, lost. He didn’t know anyone who could do what he could do, and his friends drifted further and further away.

            If I don’t say anything, maybe it will pass. Maybe this will go away and everything will be all right again.

            He hoped. He prayed.

            He decided to talk to his mom. Hypothetically, of course.

            Andy came downstairs from his room, butterflies in his stomach. The news played in the background as his mother made dinner.

            “Mom? Can I ask you something?”

            “The news is on now, honey, can it wait?”

            “Authorities in New York City, Chicago and Boston report that graffiti from rogue telepath groups was discovered this morning in subway tunnels, in what appears to be a coordinated effort. Authorities shut down all three subway systems for several hours this morning as they searched for possible explosives, disrupting the commute for over a million workers.”

            The screen switched to a picture of a subway tunnel with two slogans spray-painted onto the stone walls, “Death to Psi Corps” and “Remember Byron.”[7]

            “Psi Corps officials confirm that the slogan ‘Remember Byron’ refers to Byron Gordon,[8] the renegade Psi Cop turned rogue who set himself on fire last June,[9] sparking the recent wave of unrest. This morning’s graffiti echoes similar slogans left on the walls of the main Psi Corps headquarters on Mars, which was bombed in June by rogue telepath terrorists,[10] as well as at the sites of dozens of subsequent bombings and other attacks on Psi Corps facilities both on Earth and off-world.”[11]

            The scene switched to old footage, showing the blaze from the summer, lighting up the night sky with flames and sparks and great plumes of black smoke.

             “Authorities throughout the Earth Alliance remain on high alert for more terrorist attacks. Psi Corps issued a statement this morning reminding the public that the safety of normals, as always, remains their highest concern, and that they take all threats very seriously. A thorough investigation is underway. The Corps urges anyone who has information on these threats to contact authorities. The public is urged to report suspicious behavior to law enforcement immediately. Your help can save lives.”

            The number for a tip-line appeared on the screen.

            “My God, what’s wrong with this world?” Andy’s mother was saying. “First President Clark,[12] and now this? Rogue telepaths again? Has the world gone mad? We haven’t this much of a problem with rogue telepaths since my childhood. Can’t the Psi Corps keep its own people in line? For all our hard-earned tax dollars…”

            “The recent unrest has also added fuel to the ages-old ‘telepath question’. Is there a solution? Is the Corps doing enough to protect the public? Speaking to us from Harvard University in Cambridge Massachusetts is Professor-“

            Andy nervously tossed an orange up and down as his mother prepared some vegetables for dinner.

            He felt her mind suddenly shift to Lucy.

            “Will you stop playing with that orange, Andy, and fill up Lucy’s bowl? We’ve moved some things around. The dog food should be out in the garage now.”

            I knew what she was going to say. How did I know what she was going to say?

            He went into the garage and did as he was told, though it took him a while to find everything. When he returned, the news had switched to a different story, this time about the new Interstellar Alliance negotiations. Andy didn’t know what the commentators were talking about, other than it had something to do with the politics between humans and aliens. He cared only that the story wasn’t about telepaths.

            “Interstellar News has also received confirmation on rumors that former Minbari Ambassador Delenn, wife of Interstellar Alliance President John Sheridan, is pregnant,[13] marking the first time a human and an alien have ever conceived. Medical experts remain baffled…”

            I’ll ask her during the ads, he told himself. Just hypothetically.

            Finally, the segment ended and a public service announcement came on.[14] A boy about Andy’s age approached his mother in the living room.

            He’d seen the ad before – it was a few years old.[15] But now the PSA took on an eerie familiarity to his own circumstances.

            “John?” the boy’s mother asked him. “Why aren't you outside playing with the other kids?”

            “They hate me,” he said sullenly.

            “Now, John…”

            “It’s true. I’m just… I’m different, Mom. I can feel what they think about me, and they know I can. And he just kept hitting me until I said I was the liar. I just don’t know what to do anymore.”

            “Don’t worry, Johnny,” his mother said.

“We’ll take it from here-”

            A Psi Cop materialized in the boy’s living room, courtesy of special effects.

            “Look!” the boy exclaimed. “A Psi Cop!”

            “That’s right Johnny,” the Psi Cop said, his hair slicked back, his uniform neatly pressed. “There are a lot of other kids who feel just the same way you do. They’re confused and afraid, but they don’t have to be. The problem isn’t that other kids don’t like you. It’s that they don’t understand you. But we do.”

            Andy felt an uneasy feeling in his stomach, like he was suddenly floating weightless, unmoored from his old sense of balance, of grounding. He’d ignored similar ads all his life, even laughed at them sometimes, because they were never relevant to him back then. Besides, the ministry put out lots of messages for teens – don’t start forest fires, don’t take drugs, don’t drink and drive, and so on.

But now Andy didn’t know what to think. He related – he knew his friends didn’t understand him, either. They called him a freak and told him what he could do “wasn’t right.”

            “You’re special,” the Psi Cop told the boy. “You’re a latent telepath about to come into full bloom.”

            “My Johnny?” asked the mother. “A telepath?”

            “Probably. But to be sure, take him down to the Psi Corps Testing Center first thing tomorrow.”

            “How do I find one?”

            “We’re everywhere, for your convenience. We have offices in some schools, and in children’s hospitals. We even have mobile testing centers that travel the country.”

            There certainly was no such office in Andy’s school, that he knew that much. Maybe in the big cities? He’d never seen a mobile testing center, either, though testers did come to his middle school every year. In kindergarten, they’d done the testing right after the school nurse had checked the children for head lice.

            “And if he qualifies, we’ll give him an education, a job, a purpose. And, we’ll pay all his bills for life!”

            In the next scene, the boy stood with the Psi Cop, in a smaller version of the same uniform with matching badge and gloves, his hair slicked back like that of his new role model. He looked happy.

            “John,” his mother said, “look at you, you’ve come so far. Look at you! We’re all so proud!”

            “And I’m proud to be a part of the Psi Corps,” the boy replied, beaming.

            “So remember,” the Psi Cop told the camera, “if you know someone who might be a telepath, or think you might be one yourself, help them get the help they need. Call the Corps. Call Government Information for more on a Psi Corps Center near you. This message is from the Ministry for Public Information, and your local Psi Corps Recruitment Office.”[16]

            “Bah,” Andy’s mother said, rolling her eyes at the screen. “Now there’s one problem I’m glad we don’t have. Proud? How ridiculous. Who would be proud to have a child in Psi Corps?”

            Andy’s mouth went dry, and his knees suddenly felt like rubber. He held onto the marble countertop to keep from falling over.

            “What was it you wanted to talk about?” she asked as the next ad came on. “Is this about school?”

            “Never mind, it’s nothing,” he croaked. “Nothing important.”

 

[1] The actual testing schedule is never specified in canon. Gregory Keyes, Dark Genesis, p. 59-60 shows compulsory telepath testing in elementary school (more than a century earlier, when such testing was new, and when they were registering anyone with the genetic marker rather than identifying manifested telepaths).

[2] See Dark Genesis, p. 46, 50 and 60 for “we can identify seventy percent of telepaths medically” (with genetic tests), leaving thirty percent who don’t carry the genetic marker. See Gregory Keyes, Deadly Relations, p. 44 (“Toward the end of his stay, the prison psychologist nevertheless had become convinced that Nielsson had psi abilities, but simply did not have the mitochondrial marker - not that unusual; after all, thirty percent of telepaths lacked it.”)

[3] Canon is inconsistent about this date. Illusion of Truth gives the date in a news broadcast as having been April 12th, 2161, but Dark Genesis p. 119 clearly shows the Corps as being formed immediately after the Centauri landed, in 2156. (Additionally, since Crawford was assassinated shortly after the Centauri made contact, he could not have been having the conversation with Robinson depicted on p. 119 – in which she appoints Crawford director of the Corps – if the year were 2161 rather than the more obvious 2156.) This book uses April 12th, 2156 as the correct date.

[4] Dark Genesis, p. 119, Deadly Relations, p. 10-11, Gregory Keyes, Final Reckoning, p. 246-247

[5] Tim Dehass. “The Psi Corps and You!” /Babylon 5 #11/

[6] Deadly Relations, p. 10-11, Final Reckoning, p. 246-247. This is the story taught to children in school.

[7] Wheel of Fire

[8] Deadly Relations, p. 251

[9] Phoenix Rising

[10] Phoenix Rising mentions the bombing of the "main Psi Corps headquarters," implying the attack took place in Geneva. But see Gregory Keyes, Final Reckoning, p. 212-213, 241 (the first attack took place on Mars, and targeted Bester's office. At least sixty-four telepaths were killed in the attack.).

[11] Wheel of Fire

[12] Endgame

[13] Wheel of Fire

[14] This PSA plays in And Now for a Word. Although its content factually accurate, the PSA’s presentation in the show is nonetheless distorted. No PSA that is intended to build the public’s trust in an organization or policy would present an image that is scary and “sinister” – this is the show’s bias.

[15] And Now for a Word takes place in September 2259

[16] This public service announcement plays between the ads in the episode And Now for a Word. Most telepaths develop their abilities as teenagers. See Deadly Relations, p. 35-36 (“All telepaths are special, but you are the most special. The powers of most children do not bloom until they are eleven, twelve, older. Most of you manifested almost as you were born. Only five percent manifest before puberty. You are all rare.” See also Legacies (puberty can trigger the development of psi)).