February 2263. Chicago.
“Tonight we bring you another dramatic story, this time from Chicago, where the Corps rescued a teen from nightmarish conditions. Psi Corps youth workers reported to the house after the boy’s parents withdrew him from school to keep him from joining the Corps, even holding him captive in his own home."
The screen showed a suburban home, surrounded by police tape.
“According to authorities, the youth workers were allegedly attacked by the boy’s father, who fired at them from the second story of the home, through a narrow opening in a tarp designed to obscure line of sight. One youth worker was killed instantly, while the other escaped with injuries and called for help. A Psi Cop and bloodhound unit responded to the scene and took the man and his wife into custody. Warrants were obtained, and authorities searched the home, and discovered financial and other ties to known rogue cells in the area.”
“You’ll never take my boy!” the man in handcuffs shouted into the camera as bloodhounds led him to a waiting police vehicle. “You’ll do nothing but enslave him and fill his mind with propaganda! You’ll turn him into a mindless tool of evil! You’re worse than Nazis! I’ll fight you to my dying breath! Byron lives!”
The news returned to the announcer, an attractive young blonde woman wearing a colorblock skirtsuit, black gloves and a shiny psi insignia badge.
“The fourteen-year-old boy is now safely in Corps custody.”
“Thank God,” said Henry, next to Andy on the lounge floor. “Mundanes are crazy. They hate us when we don’t rescue their kids, but they hate us when we do, too.”
“Normals just hate telepaths,” replied Hideo. “It’s not complicated.”
Every week since Andy had arrived at school, another new student arrived, having been noticed on routine screenings or brought in for testing by parents or teachers. Their presence, rather than making life easier for Andy, only made it more complicated. The teachers made sure that every new arrival had a Corps-raised roommate, to force them to acclimate as much as possible, but it only went so far. Rather than learn to blend in, as Andy had, they broke small rules to test the teachers’ limits. They left their beds unmade, arrived to class late, wore their uniforms disheveled, or broke curfew.
One night, Andy woke up to go to the bathroom and smelled tobacco smoke. He followed the smell down the hall to the lounge, where he saw three of the new girls standing out on the balcony, with the glass door partly open. He could see that at least one of them was smoking.
Where had she got cigarettes?
He went back to his room and woke Hideo.
“Three of the new girls, they’re out on the balcony. Barbara’s got a cigarette. That’s not allowed, is it?”
“The Corps allows adults to smoke,” Hideo said, “but tobacco’s not allowed on campus.” Hideo got out of bed and started to get dressed. “We should tell Teacher Jovanović, and let him handle it.”
“But…” Now Andy had his doubts. “If we get them in trouble, they’ll hate us.”
“Andy, we all have a responsibility to look after each other here. All telepaths do. The Corps has rules to keep us safe, and smoking isn’t safe. The Corps is Mother and Father.”
“But… It’s not a big deal. I never should have woke you.”
Hideo shook his head adamantly.
“No no, you did the right thing! Get dressed.” He hesitated. “Or at least get your gloves on. You can’t go out and see a teacher like that.”
Andy scowled. He hadn’t actually intended to go to see the teachers bare-handed. He knew better. “If we tell a teacher,” he protested, “the girls will hate us.”
“So what if they do? They chose to break school rules. What punishment they get is their own fault, not yours or mine.”
“You go, not me.”
Hideo buttoned up his uniform. “Really? Teacher Jovanović will know you’re the one who saw it, but that you refused to report it to him yourself. Maybe if he were a normal he wouldn’t know… No. He will question you in the morning. He will ask you what is more important to you – the Corps, or the feelings of a few laters you’ve barely even met. I don’t envy you, but it is your choice.”
Reluctantly, Andy slipped on his gloves. “But it’s a small thing. It’s not like they tried to kill someone.”
“A small rule today, a big rule tomorrow,” Hideo recited. “That’s what we always said back in the cadres. Telepaths hold each other accountable. The Corps isn’t just the teachers, Andy – it’s you, it’s me, it’s all of us together.”
Andy accompanied Hideo down the hall to the far end of the floor, and stood quietly as Hideo knocked on the teacher’s door and told him what happened. Teacher Jovanović thanked them both and sent them back to their room.
“And now?” Andy asked Hideo.
“And now we go back to bed! It’s 1 AM. I’m exhausted!”
Hideo went back to sleep with a clear conscience, while Andy sat awake, thinking.