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John's Story ("The Metamorphosis")

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            “We needed those generators last week!” shouted the man on the screen, standing against a backdrop of the desolate Martian desert. “Our colony needs power! Why didn’t Mr. Smith deliver them this morning?”

            “I’m sorry,” replied a woman, shaking her head sullenly, her hands in the pockets of worker’s overalls. “Mr. Smith skipped town last night, and took our money with him.”

            The man pounded his fist into a table. “If only we’d called Psi Corps! This never would have happened if we’d hired a commercial telepath to monitor the negotiations!”

            “But where can we find one?” the woman asked. “Especially here, on Mars?”

            A handsome young man materialized, smiling, in the middle of the screen, his brown hair perfectly slicked back, a cute dimple in his cheek. He wore a dark, classy business suit, black gloves and a psi insignia badge.

            “Look!” said the woman, pointing.

            “We’re everywhere for your convenience,”[1] said the young man. “Even on Mars, we’re only a call away.”

            The older man shook his head. “But you’re so expensive!” he exclaimed. “Big companies hire telepaths. How can we afford one, in our small colony?”

            “The Corps will always provide a telepath to monitor your negotiations, for any job big or small. The investment is worth it. Think – would you ever enter into an important agreement without a written contract?”

            The normals shook their heads.

            “Of course not,” the male colonist said. “That would be foolish.”

            The telepath nodded, with a slight grin. “And it’s foolish not to hire a commercial telepath.”

            “You’re right,” said the woman, nodded. “Next time, we’ll do the right thing and call the Corps. We didn’t hire a telepath, and we got cheated. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

            An announcer’s voice came on. “This message is from the Ministry of Public Information, and the Psi Corps.”

*****

2228. New York City, Upper East Side.

            When John Travers was nine years old, his teacher assigned the students to do short presentations on what they wanted to be when they grew up.

            Melanie wanted to be a doctor, like her parents. Olivia wanted to join EarthForce and command a starship. Billy wanted to be a chef.

            As soon as John said “business telepath,” he knew it wasn’t the cool thing to say.

            The other children laughed at him.

            “Ms. Jones,” exclaimed Jacques, “he’s just fooling around! He wanted to be a superhero last week, and next week he’ll want to be a Narn!”

            Even the teacher laughed. “John, where did you get this idea?”

            His cheeks flushed. “I read about it,” he said, sheepishly. “In the library.”

            A few days before, he had run into a display of brightly-colored, illustrated booklets describing who telepaths were and what they did for a living. Some people grew up and got powers! he realized. How cool was that?

            The teacher hushed his giggling classmates. “This is a unit on careers. Even though John’s idea is unconventional, and more than a little unlikely, I think we can all learn from it.” She approved the project.

            The school librarian helped John find age-appropriate materials, mostly produced by the Corps. The more his friends teased him, the more determined he was to do a good job on the presentation.

            Even his older brother Marty laughed at him. “Johnny, I thought you wanted to be a soccer player.”

            “This is cooler.” John held up one of the pamphlets. “Some people grow up and get powers!”

            He thought of the children’s vids he and everyone watched, vids of Psi Cops chasing down dangerous telepath criminals and saving the day.[2] He’d never thought normals like him could grow up and get powers, too.

            “Johnny, don’t be stupid, you can’t just choose to be a telepath,” Marty scolded. “You have to be born that way. There’s a gene for it. Didn’t your teacher tell you that?”

            “That’s not true! It says here in this booklet that a lot of telepaths have normal parents. Even some Psi Cops have normal parents![3] Did you know that?”

            Marty rolled his eyes. “Johnny, you don’t want to be a telepath.” He pointed to the page.” “See? They go to separate schools. Boarding schools.”

            “Yeah! Where they teach them to use their powers!” The pictures in the booklet showed children taking exams and doing exercises to train their telepathic senses.[4] John had no idea what the children in the pictures were doing, but it fascinated him nonetheless. If he grew up to be a telepath, he imagined, he’d always know what other people were thinking! How cool would that be? He would always know when people were lying. He dreamed of becoming a really strong telepath. Psi Cops could take down bad guys with just a thought. That was even better than being a superhero – it was real.

            “You’d better not cross me,” John said, fingers to his temples, “I might turn into a telepath, and bwam!”

            Marty laughed and walked away, leaving John alone at his desk with the booklets.

            “I’ll show him,” John grumbled, and went back to work.

            On presentation day, John came into class with his illustrated report. His first sketch showed crudely drawn people standing around a table. One of the figures wore black gloves and a psi insignia badge.

            “This is a business meeting,” John told the class. “I’ll sell you 1,000 widgets!” was written above the figure on the left.

            John pointed. “The guy on the left is lying, and the telepath knows it, and she’s telling everyone.” He pointed. “She’s the one wearing gloves, because telepaths always wear gloves.”

            “Why?” asked Melanie.

            “I dunno, because they’re telepaths?” The booklets hadn’t explained that part.

            He flipped the page. A stick figure lay on the ground, surrounded by red squiggles. “This guy just got beaten up. He’s knocked out. His name is…” he looked around the class, “Jacques.”

            “Hey!”

            A stick figure in gloves stood next to “Jacques”. “And this is the telepath,” said John, pointing. “The police asked him to go through Jacques’s memories[5] to help find who beat him up. The telepath is telling the cops what the suspect looks like. But he can’t scan suspects, just victims.[6] That’s the law. The police have to find who did it on their own.”[7]

            “Well, who did it?” asked Carrie.

            “You did!”

            “What?!”

            Everyone laughed.

            John flipped the page to the next drawing, where he’d attempted a sketch of a court room. “In this picture, the police caught Carrie, and she’s on trial. Jacques has hired a telepath to prove he’s telling the truth that Carrie was the one who beat him up.”[8]

            “I did not!”

            “You’re going to prison, Carrie,” teased Billy.

            The final drawing showed a large pile of rocks, with arms and legs sticking out from underneath. “This is a landslide,” said John. “Sometimes mountains collapse, or there’s an earthquake and houses fall down. People are stuck under all the debris. Telepaths help find the missing people and get them out safely. They can feel people’s minds under all the rubble and tell the rescue workers where to dig.”[9]

            The class listened attentively.

            “Most people don’t think about telepaths very much,” concluded John, “but they’re very important. They use their powers to help everybody. They catch liars and cheaters, and keep everything fair. And sometimes they even help police catch bad guys, and save lives!”

            The teacher nodded approvingly, realizing how much work John had put into his project. John saw her smile and knew he was heading for an A.

            “I want to be a telepath, too!” said Melanie.

 

[1] And Now for a Word

[2] Normals watch the same vids about Psi Cops as kids in the Corps. Gregory Keyes, Deadly Relations – Bester Ascendant, p. 42

[3] For example, Deadly Relations, p. 95 gives Sandoval Bey’s background: “Bey’s father was Turkish, from the hill country, a poor boy who rose to political prominence. His mother had been the British ambassador to Turkey, and they had lived there until he was six, when his father was murdered by a political dissident. Thereafter, Bey had been raised in London, and had spent long summers with a grandfather who lived near Madrid. He had joined Psi Corps as a teen – Al really wasn’t sure exactly when or under what circumstances.” Se also Deadly Relations, p. 126, wherein all the other members of Bester’s team in Psi Cop training are laters, raised outside the Corps. (“'This is like a game of cops and blips, right?' 'A game of what?' Montoya asked. Al blinked. 'You never played Psi Cops and blips when you were little?' But all three were looking at him in puzzlement. Laters, every one. They had no idea what he was talking about.”)

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

[5] See The Exercise of Vital Powers, wherein Lyta scans the victim to get a visual ID on the attacker. See also “The Psi Corps and You!” /Babylon 5 #11/

[6] The Exercise of Vital Powers, “The Psi Corps and You!” /Babylon 5 #11/, Dust to Dust, In the Shadow of Z’Ha’Dum

[7] Id.

[8] Rising Star

[9] The War Prayer