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Josephine's Story

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June, 2115. Geneva.

            Senator Lee Crawford of Texas, the once-hero of the Grissom Moon colony, and the newly appointed Chair of the Senate Committee on Technology and Privacy, loosened his collar and sprawled his lanky frame on the couch. With his aide, Tom Nguyen, by his side, they both watched the vid-screen as it ran through channels.

            Though elected on his science policy platform, Crawford was now lagging in the polls. Once the “golden boy” of the party, he was quickly becoming past tense. His latest bill had failed – the party didn’t want to spend more money on yet another probe to search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Every week, Crawford slipped more and more in the polls to his opponent, Dr. Hiroshito. To win the next election, he needed a change in strategy, and badly.

            The public wasn’t afraid of alien threats from the distant stars – they were afraid of threats much closer to home.

            The reporter on the vid-screen smiled and spoke up, in the replay of events earlier that day. “Senator Crawford and Senator Koya both serve on the Committee on Technology and Privacy. Tell me, gentlemen. Let us assume for a moment that this report is true – that there are among us those who can ‘read minds.’ What are the social – and political – implications of this?”

            Crawford deftly deflected the question to Senator Ledepa Koya, of the Indonesian Consortium, a man twenty years his senior. Koya, what a chump. He’d wanted a seat on the committee, and Crawford, though from a rival political party, had granted his wish only the day before.

            Koya cleared his throat for the cameras. “Well, obviously, if this study is valid, it reveals a serious situation. Our daily lives, our respective cultures, our political systems, our legal systems – all are intrinsically dependent on privacy to ensure their very existence. The Earth Alliance mandates rights of privacy at the level of the nation-state, and at the individual level. This has been worked out in great detail, over the years, particularly as technology has made intrusions into privacy potentially deeper and easier.

            “I’m afraid if there are, in fact, telepaths, that we’re right back to square one. What technology can protect us against them? How can we detect them? How can we stop them? For that matter, how long have they been around? Imagine, each of you, the damage to your private lives if someone were to read your every thought, wish, notion. Now imagine governments and corporations hiring telepaths as spies. Or criminals who can easily stay one step ahead of the authorities. It could undermine the entire fabric of our global society. Yes, I think the Senate has many important questions to ask, if these findings are true.”

            The reporter asked Crawford for a response.

            Lee scratched his chin. “I think my colleague is being a bit alarmist. Ledepa, it almost sounds like you're suggestin' witch-hunts.”

            Koya’s face fell in horror and betrayal.

            “First of all,” Crawford continued, “their special abilities aside, telepaths are just going to be people. Your schoolteacher, your boss, your mother” – he smiled – “maybe even your senator. Just people like you and me. Not monsters. And they have the same rights and freedoms as everybody else. That said, they don't have special rights either – like the right to poke around in our heads. Still, let’s all just take a deep breath. I intend to start hearings on this as early as next week, beginning with a select panel of scientists whom we will recruit to see if these results can be replicated.”

            Back in the office, Crawford smirked.

            “I told you he’d take the bait.”

            Tom Nguyen looked from the screen to the senator. “How did you know Koya would fall that way?”

            “Simple. We all know Indonesia has a lot to hide after the Transcom affair. Some don’t even think they should be allowed membership in the Earth Alliance, and it wouldn’t take much to get them out. So as a nation, they can’t like the idea of telepaths who might ferret out where the bodies are buried. But it’s more basic than that – I checked Koya out. He’s a believer.”

            “Believer?”

            “Yup. Ever read much anthropology? As late as the twenty-first century, people were still massacred over witchcraft scares. At one time or the other, belief in malicious sorcery existed among every people on Earth. There’ve been lots of studies of it – anthropological, psychological – but in the end, it all boils down to one thing. People don't like to think bad things happen to them for no reason. Somebody has to be responsible. God. The devil. A witch. Hell, in my home state, Mississippi, there was still talk about juju and such in some places.

            “I checked out Ledepa’s hometown – only ten years ago, somebody was arrested for beatin’ up a man he thought had hexed him. So I figured the belief is still hangin’ around there, and that Ledepa might have grown up with it. Turns out, I was right – he told me himself yesterday that some in his government have suspected for years that telepaths existed, but they had no proof.” He looked around for his tumbler of scotch, and grinned smugly to himself. “He doesn’t know it, but I spent the night before anonymously bringin’ that telepathy article to the attention of various Indonesians. Companies with much to hide. Reactionary but popular religious leaders. Anyone who might panic. It’s hard for the intellect to entirely reject something it learned when it was young.” He poured himself a congratulatory drink. “I played Koya. Made it seem I felt the same way, and would back him up all the way. Did you see his expression, Tom? If looks could kill, right?”

            The scene switched, and settled on a newscaster in Indonesia.

            “...shot in Jakarta today. The suspect claimed that the victim was a telepath who had cheated him at poker. Several unsubstantiated reports of similar attacks have surfaced in the last hour.”

            Crawford lifted his drink. “Here’s a toast to the future, Tom. Who needs aliens? We’ll find our scapegoats right here on Earth. And Koya will take the blame, while I’ll get credit for saving the world.”

            The view switched to a street in Paris.

            “... only hours after a vidcast on the new report in the New England Journal of Medicine. He claimed his lover was a telepath who drove him insane...”

            And from a town in Mexico:

            “... apparently in response to the alarmist reaction of Senator Ledepa Koya to a recent journal article alleging proof of extrasensory perception. No deaths are reported, though one man was critically wounded...”

            “It’s startin’,” Lee said. He turned up the sound.

*****

2229. Chicago.

            I’m finished.

            Josephine Bennet, Esq. left the office in the pouring rain, and ordered a copy of Universe Today at the nearest kiosk.[1]

            “Credit accepted. Identity confirmed. Please insert issue to be recycled.”

            She swore and dug through her briefcase in the downpour, looking for the previous day’s newspaper. There was no sign of it – she must have left it at home in her rush out the door that morning.

            I’m finished.

            She’d overslept, after a fitful night with little rest, and barely made it to the train on time. Closing her briefcase, she checked the nearest trashcan to see if someone had by chance tossed one away, and she could recycle that one instead, but all she could see in the bin were empty food wrappers and a half-eaten burger.

            To hell with the newspaper, she decided. She had bigger problems.

            “Please insert issue to be recycled,” the kiosk repeated.

            “I don’t have it.”

            “A service fee will be applied to your account. Do you accept?”

            “Yes.”

            “Express preferences.”

            “Criminal justice. Law.”

            “Stand by. Preparing personalized edition of Universe Today, your best source of information on events shaping the world around us.”

            The kiosk charged her double. With a sigh, she retrieved her card and splashed her way towards the train station.

            I’m finished.

            She entered the Psi Corps office with trepidation, and sat in the waiting area, pretending to read her paper.

            No one’s watching me, she reminded herself, as she self-consciously flipped the pages, trying to hide her face behind the broadsheets. I’ll be out of here soon enough.

            She read the criminal justice section quickly – it was a slow news day. The rest of the stories that day were mostly negative, as usual. Locally, a shop owned by Narn was vandalized overnight, and police were looking for the culprits. A telepath had fallen to his death from the sixth storey of a building in the financial district, and the Corps was investigating. In EarthDome, a debate raged over the EarthForce budget. On Mars, someone had detonated a bomb and killed a bunch of people. Far away in space, there had been a recent escalation in violence by the Dilgar Empire, who had viciously attacked and destroyed outposts on many alien worlds.[2] So far, there had been no human casualties, but there were rumors that the Dilgar were preparing for a major war with their neighbors.[3]

            Josephine had no idea who the Dilgar were, and she didn’t especially care. Aliens were always making war with other aliens – it was difficult enough to follow Earth news, or even EA news, let alone news about what alien empires were up to. The Centauri and the Narn had been at it for centuries, with millions or billions killed. Earth had enough problems.

            A staff person called her name, and Josephine followed. A young East Asian woman named Athena greeted her. Josephine was reminded of the friendly receptionist at the dentist’s office – the one who knows that she’s not the one who’s going under the drill.

            “I’m an attorney,” Josephine said. “I’m here for my annual test, so I can renew my law license. Let’s just get it over with.”

            Athena closed the door, and paused. “For someone who does this every year, you seem especially nervous.”

            Josephine sighed, and sat down. “I’ve always had some latent telepathic ability. Never enough to be registered, never enough to be a P1. Never something the office would have to know about.”

            “Do you think something’s changed?”

            Josephine looked at the blank white walls – why were they always blank?! – and nodded, solemnly. The past several months had been different. “Tell me it’s all my imagination.”

            Athena sat down. “What sort of law do you practice?”

            Small talk. If the test came back positive, she wouldn’t even be allowed to sweep the floors of a law office.

            “Criminal defense. Ever since I was little, this is all I’ve wanted to do. Even the guilty deserve a fair trial. Don’t you think?”

            “I wanted to be a Psi Cop when I was little,” Athena said, with a wistful twinkle in her eye. “It always looked like such an exciting life on John Trakker.”[4]

            Josephine had heard of the children’s show, following the life of a Psi Cop and his trusted partner.[5] Though the program had been produced in the Corps, a lot of normal children her age had watched it, too.[6]

            Athena smiled. “I loved that show as a child, even if it wasn’t always realistic. I’m only a P6, so I was never going to be a Psi Cop, but it was fun to dream.” She laughed.

            Josephine shifted nervously in her chair, and Athena conducted her test. Josephine knew that something was wrong before Athena had said a word.

            “I have difficult news for you.”

            Josephine took a deep breath. A rating. She’d hoped and prayed this day would never come, but here it was. Her mind raced. “All right, hit me. What is it? P1? P2?”

            “P4.”

            “What?!”

            Athena nodded and kept talking, but Josephine could barely hear the other woman’s words through the emotional shockwave.

            She was given a choice.

            “The drugs? I have to,” Josephine said. “It’s the only way to keep my job.”

            Athena made Josephine watch a short vid about the benefits of joining the Corps.

            “I know you have to show me that, but I don’t want to be a business telepath. I’m a criminal defense attorney. I’ve made up my mind.”

            Athena reached out and placed a gloved hand reassuringly on Josephine’s arm. “You’re not alone. There are other lawyers who take suppressants.[7] A few months ago I met a charming young man who works in his family’s firm. Nothing changed when he got his rating – he went right back to work. And there’s another lady I met once at a seminar, fine woman. She got out of law school and founded a firm, and then in her early forties she developed telepathy. So rare at that age! She went on the drugs, and life went on. Her clients stayed. She does promotional vids for the Corps sometimes.”[8]

            “I think I should go,” Josephine managed, weakly.

            “Let me get you a glass of water,” Athena said. “You’ll see – everything will be all right.”

            The man who gave Josephine the injection wasn’t nearly so optimistic.

            “Throughout history,” he said, as the needle went into her arm, “there have always been those who are so ashamed of what they are, who wanted so badly to integrate, to assimilate, to curry favor with those in power, that they would sell their souls, sell out their own, or even commit suicide. It’s not just telepaths – it’s a human failing, I believe.”

            “Excuse me?”

            “You’re trying to be better than those of us who wear gloves. You’re trying to separate yourself from me, to hold onto what I’ve been denied by killing what makes you special, makes you gifted. You’re ready to hand over your soul for an empty promise of acceptance from normals, and what you think you’re entitled to. But you’re a fool, because they will never accept you. There’s only one future for telepaths – in unity, honesty, and pride in who we are. In absolute mutual guarantee, despite our differences. That’s the Corps.”

            He was still speaking when the world shut off.

 

[1] Divided Loyalties

[2] Deathwalker

[3] Id.

[4] Gregory Keyes, Deadly Relations, p. 7, 9, 14, 17, 42, 68

[5] Deadly Relations, p. 7

[6] Deadly Relations, p. 42 ("a lot of normals watch vids, stuff like John Trakker")

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

[8] Id.