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Julie's Story

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2228. New York City.

            Every morning, Julie wakes at six-thirty, eats, showers, and dresses – in color-block suits perfectly ironed, carefully coordinated to match her shirt, shoes, stockings, and accessories.

            The blue earrings go with the blue shell… the gold ones match everything…

            She adds gel to her wet hair, and does her best to tame the unruly dark locks into something presentable, and she applies her make-up – lipstick, eyeliner – and covers any skin blemishes with concealer.

            All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances…

            Back in high school, she was an actress, a singer, a dancer. She was known for the power of her voice, and had set her dreams on Broadway. Now she remains silently in the background, a pretty prop, an eternal “extra” in someone else’s play.

            Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

            She pins her insignia badge to her jacket lapel, slips on her leather gloves, and examines herself in the mirror.

            Perfect hair. Perfect clothes. Perfect smile.

            All dressed up, and nowhere to go.

            The Business Division has placed her with Centimia Corporation, a mid-size firm located on the twenty-second story of a New York City skyscraper. The days rolled by, one after the next, boredom punctuated with moments of awkwardness.

            This day, when she arrives at work, the elevator door opens, and four people step on, but one of them spots Julie and reaches for the button to close the carriage doors. “I’m sorry, this car is full,” she snaps, coldly.

            “But… hey!”

            The door closes in Julie’s face. She can feel waves of annoyance from several people behind her. The don’t say anything aloud, but she can feel them blaming her for making them late.

            She turns to the man standing next to her. “Did you see that? The lift was half-empty!”

            Uncomfortable, he shrugs. “Well, you are in the Corps. I can’t really blame her. Your kind make people nervous, you know?”

            Julie’s stomach sinks. She takes the stairs, stopping several times to catch her breath on the way up. It’s better this way, she tells herself, trying not to let the incident get to her. I get some exercise.

            When she finally reaches her floor, she catches sight of Mr. Johansen, standing with several other normals and looking her up and down like a choice cut of meat, and she wants to dive back into the stairwell instead.

            Mr. Johansen has never put a hand on Julie – she knows he tried that once before with another telepath, and was reprimanded for it when finally spotted by other normals. But he didn’t stop his lechery, only has become more subtle. Whenever he sees her, he envisions her naked, his hands all over her, and hers over him, in very sexual ways.

            She can’t report him for his “fantasies,” no matter how unwanted and invasive they are for her, or no matter how intentional she feels his conduct is. She knows it gives him a thrill to force the images on her, knowing there isn’t a damn thing she can do about it. All the normals can see is a look, all they can hear is an occasional whistle.[1]

            That day, he spends the business meeting thinking about pulling off her gloves and sucking on her fingers.[2] The other side’s telepath[3] – Corps raised – turns beet red and has to excuse himself, during time which the meeting is adjourned. When the session ends, Julie goes to the bathroom and hides in a stall, shaking, feeling violated. Does Mr. Johansen go home every night and watch telepath pornography? she wonders. Some normals, she knew, were entirely too obsessed with the telepath “hand fetish,” either with mocking telepath culture, or with making everything all about themselves.[4] To such men, others' boundaries were meaningless, even as they whined about supposed violations of their own. They would always make excuses for their behavior, always try to make it someone else's fault. It was, after all, only what they "did" that mattered, not what they "thought," even as they intentionally forced unwanted sexual thoughts on the telepaths they fetishized.

            If Julie didn't like it, such men would say, it was her own fault - they'd done nothing he wrong, only what "anyone else" would do. She shouldn't be able to feel their thoughts in the first place. Her senses weren't "right."[5]

            Julie's counterpart at the table, the other company's telepath, tells Julie some days later that in the onslaught of Mr. Johansen's vulgar "fantasies," he’d come within an inch of quitting, mid-meeting. There was, as he put it, only so much he could take. Instead, he’d returned to the meeting and put up tight mental blocks, hoping to God it wasn’t all an intentional ploy to get him to tune out so Centimia could cheat his client.[6]

            Julie knows that Mr. Johansen isn’t nearly so clever.

 

[1] Garibaldi treats Talia this way, thinking unwanted and intrusive sexual thoughts about Talia in her presence, stalking her by always following her when she takes the bullet car, staring at her rear end when she walks by, etc.. See Mind War, A Voice in the Wilderness I, and other episodes. See also Final Reckoning, p. 162-164 (full quotation below in the notes).

[2] Hands are especially sexualized in telepath culture. See, for example, Final Reckoning, p. 68

[3] Each side can hire its own telepath, or can agree to split the cost of just one. See JMSNews, 4/19/1995: “Both sides can hire their own teeps (telepaths), or jointly hire the same one, who is adjudged neutral.”

[4] Final Reckoning, p. 68

[5] Final Reckoning, p. 163

[6] Certain normals wouldn’t be above this, or other tricks (legal or otherwise) to fool telepaths. See JMSNews, 1/9/1993: “The background on that business meeting is similar to all such uses of telepaths: both sides agree to the presence of a telepath to monitor the negotiations. If one were to demur, the deal would be off because the person clearly has something to hide. Which is why there is a good market for various kinds of shields that don’t LOOK like or feel like shields unless the telepath knows what to look for. You can also just try and hide it and hope that the telepath isn’t looking too deep or isn't really paying attention, which is what that guy was doing. (May have been reciting the “tensor” rhyme trying to keep his brain occupied.)”

Chapter Text

            Beta Erani III, an Earth-like colony deep in space. Someone has framed the hero – a dashing young prospector named Colby Cross – for murdering the mayor. Cross’ friends don’t believe he did it, but unless they can find the true assassin, Cross will hang at sunrise in the town square.

            They decide to enlist the help of the attractive young telepath – Mariska? – who sometimes works at the sheriff’s office. She’s the only telepath in town, and, as far as the vid ever shows, on the whole planet. There certainly is no Psi Corps office to be seen anywhere. Colby Cross has been chasing her for months, but she’s always rebuked his advances. Now, though, she tells him who she suspects may have been behind the murder. She hasn’t scanned anyone, of course – that would be against Psi Corps rules[1] – but, off the record, the surface thoughts of one man seem very suspicious. She thinks he knows something about the murder.

            Cross, suave as always, asks her out on a date, “strictly platonically.” He invites her to the suspect’s favorite bar in the hope that she can pick up some relevant information from the suspect. “We’ll just pretend to be involved,” he tells her, with a wink. Reluctantly, she agrees – but as soon as they arrive, the suspect sees them together, and approaches, angry, suspecting some sort of trick.[2]

            “You’ve got a problem with my date?” asks Cross, and the suspect lets out a string of choice anti-telepath slurs. Cross punches the suspect in the jaw and the two men duke it out, bottles of ale smashing, tables shattering, punches flying.

            “I know you framed him!” shouts the telepath, suddenly. “I can feel it! You’ve hated him ever since long ago, he took your girlfriend! You’ve held a grudge! The mayor’s enemies paid you to set it all up, and you used Cross, thinking no one would ever know!”

            The bad guy hits the telepath, and she collapses behind the bar.[3]

            More punches, more smashed glass, a few bloody noses and cut lips. The suspect finally confesses to the whole plot, and the sheriff’s men come and arrest him on the spot. Even the bartender is Cross’ best friend now, despite the wreckage. Indeed, the whole town congratulates Cross on how clever he was in finding the true culprit, and they all decide to elect him the new mayor.

            Happily ever after. The telepath is… where is she? The story never shows her again after the scene in the bar. She’s disappeared.[4]

*****

            Julie had joined the Corps at eighteen. At only P5, however, with no connections, she was destined for a life in the Business Division or with the courts. Julie took a short class to earn her commercial license.

            The teacher greeted them on the first day with an exercise, asking each student to write down the most important aspects of a corporate telepath’s job.

            Catching cheaters, she wrote, feeling proud of herself. Wasn’t that the reason that businesses hired telepaths – to make sure their clients and associates didn’t cheat them?

            “Wrong answer.” The teacher, a white woman with a slight Russian accent, stood in front of her and looked her over with piercing brown eyes.

            “Ma’am?”

            “I didn’t ask you why normals hire business telepaths. I asked you for the most important aspects of your job.”

            She crossed out her answer, frustrated. To deter cheating, she wrote instead. That had to be her point right? Few would be foolish enough to try to cheat a business partner with telepaths in the room. She grinned smugly at the South Asian boy seated next to her. How had she not seen it? Telepaths were a deterrent.

            The teacher came back around the room. “Wrong answer,” she said again. “I didn’t ask you for the service you provide the business community, to normals. Stop thinking like them.”

            She looked around he room, desperate for a hint. Most of the students were her age, and had been raised in the Corps or entered much younger, though a few people, she could see, were in their twenties or even thirties.

            You’re playing a part, ‘cast a thin young black woman several rows back. Like in a play.

            The teacher walked to the board, and wrote in large letters,

APPEARANCE

            “You are representatives of the Corps. Your appearance is paramount. If you cut any corners in how you look, they will wonder what other corners you cut, and it will reflect badly on both you and the Corps. If you make a mistake in monitoring the deal, chances are that normals will be none the wiser, and you will have a chance to correct your error later before any real harm is done. But if you don’t dress with precision, exactly the way they expect you to look, you will be fired.”

            She walked back to the board and wrote another word.

SILENCE

            “I can’t tell you how many business telepaths get fired for giving their opinions. I’ll tell you straight – normals don’t care what you think. They’d rather you didn’t, but if you can’t help it, they’d rather not know. You’re not hired to have an opinion, even if they ask you for one – especially if they ask you for one. Once you have an opinion, you’re taking sides between normals, and that means someone will be angry with you – someone may even hurt you. Don’t get cocky – you’re a device, nothing more.”

            Julie watched in horror as the teacher wrote one more phrase on the board.

SIT STILL, LOOK PRETTY

            “Eventually, you’ll have the chance to politely point out an omission or deception. But don’t forget your real responsibilities. You play a crucial part in keeping the economy of the Earth Alliance running smoothly. Normals tolerate us because they need us, so we must give them exactly what they want – nothing more, nothing less. Normals don’t trust each other, which is why they hire us - but their trust for us is conditional on our abiding at all times by their rules: big and small, written and unwritten. A telepath who plays his or her part is safe, is an asset, but one who doesn’t is a liability... even dangerous. He or she must go – and is no less replaceable than a broken widget.”

            Julie’s heart sank. She approached the teacher after class.

            “Is this true?” she asked, pointing to the board. “All the vids where telepaths use their powers and catch the bad guys – it’s all a lie?”

            “Normals wrote the vids,” the teacher replied. “What do you expect?”

 

[1] Pilot (The Gathering), In the Shadow of Z’Ha’Dum (“Psi Corps rules prohibit unauthorized scans in civil or criminal investigations”), Dust to Dust, Exercise of Vital Powers, Phoenix Rising, Objects in Motion, Deadly Relations, p. 49 ("Psi Corps regulations forbid unauthorized scans"), p. 58 ("Al came to the painful decision that he would have to break a regulation. He probably had already - [telepathically] pushing a normal, even in self-defense"). See also when Talia happens to be walking by and overhears the villain in Mark Moretti, “In Harm’s Way,” /Babylon 5 #3/.

[2] Soul Hunter (“Ambassador G'Kar?” “A great pleasure.” “This is Ms. Winters, our resident telepath.” “Telepath? You said nothing about this.” “It’s standard procedure.” “I don’t like anyone playing in my head.”) See also Dust to Dust, when Garibaldi and Bester (then on sleepers) meet with a suspect and Bester tricks him into incriminating himself, and Face of the Enemy (“And you, are you out of your mind? What are you doing, bringing a teep here, when we’re ready to move? Are you trying to compromise my security?”)

[3] See Eyes

[4] Id.

Chapter Text

            Mariska never seems to mind that the normal cop she works for is always admiring her backside, making comments in the precinct to his buddies.[1] She makes the occasional sarcastic quip his way, but never tells him to stop. Her body belongs to the normals as much as her mind does.

            The vid’s villain realizes that the telepath can incriminate him, so he sneaks up on her one day and attacks her while she’s walking home. He holds a knife to her throat and threatens to kill her, holding his hand over her mouth so she can’t scream.[2] Logically, she could take him down telepathically, but she doesn’t even consider it – he’s a normal, and she’s a good telepath. She knows that it would violate Psi Corps regulations to harm her attacker telepathically, even in self-defense,[3] and that following the rules is more important than her own life.

            So she just stares wild-eyed, terrified, into the villain’s eyes.[4] But she does take that moment – by accident? – to scan him and discover all his nefarious plans.[5] The story will forgive her for the scan, because he was a “bad guy,” and the good guys need the information.

            The villain tells her he’s going to slit her throat. At just that moment, Colby Cross and his buddies – including the rude cop – happen to walk by. They pull their weapons and threaten the villain, who frees Mariska and runs off.[6]

            Mariska isn’t traumatized by the experience, just slightly shaken.[7] Trauma would be too inconvenient for the heroes. She immediately tells Cross all of the villain’s plans, and Cross and his friends save the day.[8] No one even thinks to thank Mariska.[9] She disappears from the story, again. It was never her story to begin with.

            She’s played her part. She’s given the hero what he needs. Why else would there be a telepath in the story, anyway?

            Julie knows Mariska is played by a normal. She knows that all the telepaths are, except in vids produced by the Corps.

            She changes the channel, but nothing ever changes.

*****

            Julie is shrinking. She wants to write a story about a woman who gets smaller and smaller, little by little, till one day she’s barely an inch tall, and falls through a grate in the street and disappears forever.

            That morning, she boards the train at five foot three. She tries to take a seat, but the man next to her recoils.

            “You’re in Psi Corps,” he says, with a mixture of fear and disgust.

            Julie nods.

            “I don’t want you sitting next to me,” he says. “No offense.”

            “None taken,” Julie lies.

            She stands the whole way to the station, then waits by the curb for her bus. But the but arrives full, with, at most, standing room on the steps.

            She goes for it.

            “Do I fit in?” she asks, trying to wedge herself through the press of bodies. The doors close. The other passengers notice her.

            “Look, a telepath!”

            “No, you don’t,” a voice says, as the door closes. There is no escape.

            The bus rumbles, knocking her slightly into the large blonde woman next to her.

            “I don’t have a problem with you,” the woman says, pulling back, “I just don’t want you touching me.”

            “It’s a crowded bus! It’s not my fault!”

            The woman’s loathing is tangible; it twists and snakes its way through Julie, who slams up her mental blocks and prays for a miracle, or at least a quick commute.

            Seconds tick by into minutes.

            She steps off the bus at five foot two.

*****

            The victim lies unconscious on the hospital bed.

            “Quick, we don’t have much time. Fetch a telepath!” the doctor orders,[10] and a young man is brought in, barely out of training.

            “She’ll pass away any moment,” the doctor declares, pointing to the patient, “and we need to know who attacked her, so we can notify the police.”[11]

            The young man hesitates. He doesn’t like the situation. “It’s very dangerous,” he says. “If I don’t break off contact soon enough, I could die with her.”[12]

            The doctor scowls. “I’m sorry to do this to you, Brian, but we must know what happened. She was a friend.”

            “I might relive the attack.”[13]

            “Are you saying you won’t help?”

            “When a telepath scans a dying person… they say part of your soul goes with them.”[14]

            “So you won’t do it? You’re going to just let her killer get away?”[15]

            The young man takes off one of his gloves and scans her, and when he finally withdraws his hand, he is crying. A part of him is missing, a part that may never come back.[16]

            “I’m sorry to have done this to you,” the doctor says, patronizingly,[17] now putting an arm around Brian’s shoulder. “But it was necessary. You understand.”

            Brian is a good telepath. He nods. He gives the killer’s name to the police officer, then excuses himself and leaves.

            The cop turns to the doctor. “I appreciate what they do,” he says, referring to Brian and every other telepath in the same breath, “but it always gives me the creeps. Tell me, doc, do you trust them?”

            The doctor shrugs, noncommittally. “I’ve learned to, after a fashion. They are blessed and cursed in ways we can’t possibly understand.”[18]

            Julie knows she isn’t “cursed” by anything other than the ignorance, fear, and hatred of mundanes, by their slights and lies, their distortions and oppressions – and she can’t fathom why that should be so impossible to understand.

*****

            Julie wears higher heels, brighter lipstick, bigger jewelry. If she paints herself bigger, she thinks, maybe she will stop shrinking.

            All the world’s a stage…

            She will never be a singer, never be a dancer. She will never perform on Broadway, or open a dance school. There is no escape. If she leaves Centimia, she will end up in another company that is no different. If she leaves Chicago, she will end up in another city. If she leaves Earth, she will end up on another planet.

            She cannot leave EA space.[19] And humans aren’t especially welcome among the Centauri, anyway.

            So she lives in a gilded cage. Her apartment is spacious, located in an upscale part of the city. The Corps sets the wages and benefits for commercial telepaths, and businesses have to pay it in order to hire a telepath and stay on the right side of the law.[20]

            If she ran away, where would she go? No legit landlord would rent her a room, and no legit employer would hire her – they would all do a background check.[21] Hiring a rogue telepath, or even a merely unlicensed telepath, would open them to serious liability.[22]

            She would quickly run out of money. Work in the criminal underworld was spotty, and life in that world was dangerous – even deadly. Above ground, when a deal went south, normals sued each other. Underground, they shot the telepath. And even when a deal went as planned, they often shot the telepath anyway, simply to leave no witnesses.[23] She would be no more free – she would still belong to normals, just to different ones, to normals on the other side of the law.

            So each day she slips on her gloves, and hides her pain – the friends and family who left her life, the dead-end job, the endless pin-pricks of a life among normals.

            She walks from the station to the office, and she thinks of William Karges. She knows the story as told in vids isn’t entirely true,[24] but some of the basic facts are – he had secretly been a telepath,[25] even though telepaths had been barred from the president’s guard,[26] and he did his duty and sacrificed his life for the president’s.[27] But Robinson wanted to create a universal Metasensory Regulatory Authority, with mandatory registration of all telepaths across the EA.[28] She needed a martyr to propagandize, an “ideal telepath” for normals to romanticize, a role model for generations of young telepaths who would be taught to look up to someone who had died to save an important normal.[29]

            Julie knows that most real telepath “deaths” aren’t dramatic; few involve jumping in front of bullets. They are slow, quiet, invisible – the deaths of dreams, the deaths of hopes, the deaths of family bonds, the quiet attrition and dissolution of one’s soul in the toxic brew of boredom, harassment and discrimination.

            They are the cogs in the normals’ machine.

            Back in training, Julie had asked her teacher about the Karges story.

            “It’s a lie, but it’s true,” her teacher had replied. “If someone invented a machine that could do our jobs, we would be useless, and if that ever happened, we would no longer be tolerated. Normals hate us and fear us, and they let us live only because we serve some purpose to them. Karges never actually jumped in front of that bullet – he was shot several blocks away.[30] The assassin never got to Robinson.”[31]

            “I don’t understand.”

            “He died to save the president, and we were given the Corps. It’s a fairytale, but it contains a kernel of truth. We are all William Karges. As a people, we are permitted to live only because collectively, we die for them.”[32]

*****

            On the way home from work one day, a normal stops her. He is a large man, with a tan overcoat and a fedora.

            “Excuse me, miss,” he begins, but then his eye catches the psi insignia she wears. “Oh!” he says, “you’re in Psi Corps! You already know what I’m about to ask.”

            She purses her lips. “Sir, you know I would never read your mind, that’s against Psi Corps rules.”

            “But you’re a telepath!” He laughs. “That’s all I meant.”

            “I know,” she replies, hiding her annoyance at his “joke.” “But as I said, that’s against the rules, and I would never do that.”

            She is always deferential to normals, even when she wants to tell them to go to hell.

            “Of course, of course… I was just going to ask for directions to Pleasant Avenue.”

            “I don’t know, sorry.”

            “How can you not know? I thought you were a telepath.”

            So she makes something up. She doesn’t even care if her fictional directions lead him down an ally, or if he falls into a construction hole. She isn’t Mariska. She doesn’t know everything a normal might want. She doesn’t even care. That part of her disappeared long ago.

            The man hesitates to leave, and she can feel from him a lingering sense of guilt.

            “I’m sorry for giving you a hard time,” he says after a pause, nervously. “I just wanted to say I appreciate all that you do. The Psi Corps is doing society a good service.”

            He means it, goddamn it.

            “You’re very welcome, sir,” Julie replies, because it’s all that she remembers how to say.

 

[1] Garibaldi treats Talia this way, thinking unwanted and intrusive sexual thoughts about Talia in her presence, stalking her by always following her when she takes the bullet car, staring at her rear end when she walks by, etc.. See Mind War, A Voice in the Wilderness I, and other episodes. See also Final Reckoning, p. 162-164.

[2] Something similar happens to Talia in “In Harm’s Way,” /Babylon 5 #3/

[3] Deadly Relations, p. 49, 58

[4] “In Harm’s Way,” /Babylon 5 #3/

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] See, for example, “In Harm’s Way,” /Babylon 5 #3/, Pilot (The Gathering), Eyes, In the Shadow of Z’Ha’Dum, Paragon of Animals

[10] See a similar scene in Paragon of Animals. See also in “In Harm’s Way,” /Babylon 5 #3/.

[11] Such scans are permitted, but only under if the victim is certain to die very quickly, and cannot be saved. (See “In Harm’s Way,” /Babylon 5 #3/, “The Psi Corps and You!” /Babylon 5 #11/.) To be admissible, the scan also must (as always) be conducted by a member of the Corps (the problem in Paragon of Animals). To scan someone who is unconscious and severely injured, but not about to die, is not permitted, as it would violate the victim’s rights not to be scanned against his or her will (see Deadly Relations, p. 186-187).

[12] Deadly Relations, p. 171, p. 189

[13] Exercise of Vital Powers

[14] Paragon of Animals (“You feel the other person slipping away. And for a second, it catches you. It pulls you in and a part of your soul goes with him. ... Call it whatever you want. But inside... in here... there’s a part of you that goes cold. Empty. And after that... you’re never quite whole again.”)

[15] Pilot (The Gathering)

[16] Deadly Relations, p. 189, after the eighth necroscan, “And finally in his own voice. And there is nothing here. There is nothing left in my heart at all. There wasn’t. There wasn’t. His skin was all that remained, inside out, empty.” See also Final Reckoning, p. 75, “He had done eight. Eight times, and each time a part of him had died with them. Finally, when he slipped beyond the final doorway they all passed through, he had looked into his own heart and had seen nothing there. Nothing. But then, decades later, there had been Carolyn, and now... So he lay there, listening as Louise came up the stairs, as the door to her room closed softly. Lay there wondering; if a man lived long enough, could he grow a new soul?”)

[17] In the Shadow of Z’Ha’Dum

[18] Spider in the Web. (“Aside from Ms. Winters’ 'interesting' quality, do you think she can be trusted?” “Yes, except she’s very loyal to Psi Corps.” “And you don’t trust Psi Corps?” “No. Do you?” “Telepaths are gifted and cursed in ways I can never hope to understand. But they’re still human beings, good, bad or indifferent. No. I trust in individuals, not organizations.”)

[19] Legacies, A Race Through Dark Places

[20] Dark Genesis, Deadly Relations, p. 196 (Psi Corps acts as a union for telepaths), Exercise of Vital Powers

[21] Deadly Relations, p. 46. Once one is registered with the Corps, even if one is on sleepers, one’s registration status is public and available to landlords and employers. (“Say he was twelve when he got his psi – what would he do out there in the mundane world? Take the sleeper drugs? That way he could hide his abilities, keep leading the life he was accustomed to – except that normals would find out, through personnel records, or official files. He couldn’t get a job or even get housing without disclosing his nature, and the normals would still hate him, sleepers or no.”)

[22] Moments of Transition. <em>Behind the Gloves</em> returns to this later.

[23] Dark Genesis, p. 101-114 (see the story of one telepath, Mr. Raskov, who monitored an IPX deal), The Exercise of Vital Powers (a telepath named Constance is hired and then murdered by Mr. Wade (who works for Mr. Edgars))

[24] Deadly Relations, p. 10-11, Final Reckoning, p. 246-247

[25] Id.

[26] “The Psi Corps and You!” /Babylon 5 #11/

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

[28] Dark Genesis, p. 119

[29] Deadly Relations, p. 10-11, Final Reckoning, p. 246-247

[30] “The Psi Corps and You!” /Babylon 5 #11/

[31] Id.

[32] Final Reckoning, p. 246-247