2187. One year before Bester's parents poison Seattle.
A truck carrying "pharmaceutical products" from Rentech in Louisiana to Mexico City is stopped at the border and searched, as part of a routine inspection. Behind the boxes and crates sit five young people, ages six to twenty-five, bound and drugged, half-conscious.
Police are called, and when the young people are determined to be telepaths, the Corps is called.
The Corps suspects something much larger and sinister is going on at Rentech. The Corps knows that the trafficking of telepath youth (for corporate slavery or sex slavery) is a lucrative business, one they've had a difficult time stopping because the normal authorities are so prone to look the other way. Some don't care, some are bribed, some are blackmailed, and some are clients themselves.
The Corps decides to send someone into Rentech, under-cover, to gather intel on the human trafficking ring, and help them break it up. The Corps is Mother and Father. These young people are our responsibility - if we don't rescue them, no one will.
Claude Heckman, twenty-five, with curly blond hair and blue eyes, was raised as a normal, and is now a Psi Cop. The Corps selects him both for his familiarity with the "normal world" and for his IT expertise. The Corps arranges for him to be hired in the IT department of Rentech, without anyone in the company knowing he is a telepath.
"Rentech hires business teeps," Claude says, concerned. "What if one of them sees me? They'll know instantly I'm a strong telepath, and they'll report me."
"And we'll come out, test you, and find nothing," his boss says. "We'll say it's a misunderstanding, that you're just really intuitive."
Heckman works for Rentech for a year, secretly gathering files and sending them to the Corps. He watches as children are sold to buyers all around the world, and collects data on every transaction. The Corps' fears are true - the operation is global. It makes him sick to read: the purchase and sale of young people as if they were chattel.
He learns that the young people come through the Underground. Many are kidnapped; some are willingly handed over by their parents in the hope of keeping their children out of the Corps. The Underground, in return, provides all the illegal scans Rentech wants, and even some sabotage operations. The whole company is rotten to the top.
On average, Heckman learns, for every three young people the Underground sends Rentech, one is sold through Rentech's network of middlemen and buyers - the teep they feel can fetch the most profit. The others are moved in Rentech vehicles to whatever location the Underground desires.
A year into his undercover operation, Heckman has collected enough information for the Corps to make its move. He waits to see what the Corps will do, if they will move unilaterally, or will coordinate efforts with EABI (the Earth Alliance Bureau of Investigations). It is at this point that Rentech realizes that he is a mole. Realizing he's been found out, he deletes the files and tries to cover his tracks, but it's too late. Early one morning, as soon as he arrives at work, they nab him. He is arrested by company security, drugged, dragged to a basement room, tied up, and beaten up.
The room is grey, with a one-way mirror, table and two chairs. They leave him on the floor. An hour later, two new people enter on the other side of the mirror, and Heckman can't identify them. They can see him - maybe even scan him - but without line of sight, he can't scan them back.
"He's a teep," he hears a female voice say. "A strong one."
"Strong enough to be a Psi Cop?"
The man grunts, irritated. "He started working in our technical support department about a year ago. We caught him trying to send files out to somewhere, but he was able to erase both the files and the intended destination before we caught him."
"What do you want with me?"
"I want you to tell me what he's doing here - whether he knows about our arrangements with the Underground, and so on."
"It won't be easy. He'll block."
"Do what is necessary."
"He may be stronger than I am."
"We can only ask you to try."
He feels the woman try to scan him, but cautiously. Now, with telepathic contact established, he doesn't need line of sight.
"You're one of us," he says, softly.
"I doubt that very much," she replies. "I make you for a Psi Cop. What about it?"
Yes, I'm Corps. I'm proud of it. What I meant was, you're one of us, a teep. In or out of the Corps, we are the same. Kith.
"Speak aloud," she orders.
So your mundane pal can hear everything I say?
"Speak aloud!" she orders him, again.
You don't want me to speak what I know aloud. You're with the Underground, I guess.
You do a lot of business with these people. They're just using you, you know.
And we use them. To fight you jackboots. What's the difference?
He pauses. He doesn't know what to say - he's spent the last year trying to rescue kids from slavery, and she's calling him a Nazi. This woman is sick - sick, twisted and broken inside. He feels bad for her, so consumed by hatred of her own kind.
They're going to kill me, is all he manages.
That's not my concern. You dug your own grave. But if you cooperate, let me scan you, I might be able to get you out of here in one piece. I don't know what I'll do with you then, but I won't kill you.
Heckman worries that perhaps she wants to torture him - perhaps she would derive some deep pleasure out of torturing a Psi Cop. He shudders.
Her identity is now plainly clear - on the other side of the one-way mirror stands Fiona Dexter, one of the three top leaders of the Underground. This operation really does go all the way up, he now sees, both in the Underground and in Rentech.
The Dexters and their associate, Walters, are the most notorious telepath criminals on the planet and beyond. Only the day before, they had personally blown up a chemical plant in Seattle, poisoning thousands of innocent people in the name of their twisted "cause." And as the residents of Seattle suffered and died, she was here, with him, "face to face," in the dim light of the dingy cell - on the other side of the mirror.
He takes a gamble.
If you find out what I know and you tell them, he says, they will most certainly kill me. And you, too.
"Let me scan you."
You want it? You got it.
He goes for it. He risks everything on the hope that she doesn't want telepaths trafficked into slavery - and sex slavery - any more than he does. He hopes she doesn't know what's happening to those kids. If she already does - if that was her plan all along - then it's game over.
He telepathically shows her everything.
Stay quiet, she says. I'm going to tell them I couldn't scan you.
He nods, and she leaves.
Now all he can do is wait.