2256. Syria Planum, Mars. A major underground train station.
"I hate the way they look at us," Ysidra Tapia said, lifting her chin incrementally at the crowd waiting on the train platform, and pointing with her eyes toward the normals around them. Most looked like miners, though there were a few white-collar types mixed in. All stared at Al and Ysidra with varying degrees of vehemence.
She had been told, back in school, that life outside campus walls would be difficult, that normals would be hostile, but nothing could entirely prepare her for the real thing. There was distrust and hatred all around her, on all sides. She and her mentor stood with their backs to the station wall, and she was quickly seeing why.
Bester shrugged. "I take comfort in the little things," he told her. "Things that give me a sense of security, of permanency. The sun rises and sets every day, objects in a gravity well fall down and not up, and normals hate telepaths. It's comforting, really, when you get to my age. It tells you that God is in heaven and all is right with the world."
She scrunched her face in confusion. "You really believe that?"
"Of course. The Jews have a saying, to explain anti-Semitism... 'Esau hates Jacob.' Are you familiar with it?"
She shook her head.
"Never mind then. Let me tell you a story. On my very first excursion off campus grounds, I was attacked. Why? Simply because I was a telepath." He shrugged.
Ysidra's head snapped up to the source of the sound. Both she and Bester had heard it loud and clear - its source had intended to be heard, both by the telepaths themselves as well as by everyone else on the platform. She was a tough-looking miner of about forty, with muscular arms and overalls.
"You heard me," she said, looking straight at Bester. "Mindfucker."
"Good day to you, too!" he replied, with exaggerated brightness. It was, Ysidra could see, a disarming tactic. Do something unexpected - smile, go about your business - and maybe they'll be confused, and will, too.
For a moment, it seemed to work. "Come on, Endra," another woman said, tugging at her arm. She was younger, less muscular, and a little more skittish around telepaths. "Come on, let's go."
"Come on?" Endra snapped, shaking the other woman off her. "Have you forgotten starving? The food riots? These mindfuckers, fat and lazy, watching us starve?"
Ysidra had been raised on Earth, but she'd learned about the events in school, as they happened - following the Earth-Minbari War, with the EA's infrastructure in ruins, food shipments to Mars (that were already tightly rationed) were cut off entirely in November 2250, by order of the EA Senate, over the objections of the president. Marsies believed that Earth was giving priority to its own population at the cost of the colony, as punishment for Mars' declaring neutrality during the war with the Minbari, and they instigated a planet-wide riot from January to April of the following year. EarthForce eventually quelled the riots, but not before many Marsies died, both from violence and from starvation.
The situation for telepaths on Mars, however, was a bit different. The Psi Corps charter mandated (as always) strict neutrality in all matters of normal politics, so the Corps ran its own shipments of food to the red planet. Most shipments went directly to the telepath population, though some food was also distributed to normals as humanitarian aid.
Hearing the miner's words, Ysidra's blood boiled. If the Marsies had suffered, well, they'd brought it on themselves.
"Maybe you should have thought of that before you decided to sit out the Earth-Minbari War," Tapia snapped, suddenly. She could feel Bester's surprise at her outburst.
"Wasn't our war. We didn't start it."
"Wasn't your war?" Tapia fired back. "You cowards! My father died on the Line. And my brother. Earth boiled a million gallons of blood into a vacuum to save the Human race while you guys sat here like the Marsie cowards you are."
Endra looked at Bester. "You better keep your little pup on the curb, Mr. P-sicko," she said, with a new edge to her voice that neither telepath liked. A murmur rose among the rest of the crowd on the platform - they were getting angrier by the second, agreeing with Endra and looking for a fight.
It was only two on... two hundred.
Bester waited, wanting to see how his new trainee would handle the situation. She wanted to be a Psi Cop, she wanted to train with the best for 'real work' in the field - he needed to see how she would handle herself under pressure.
Ysidra paused. She realized she'd overstepped. She saw that they were surrounded. She became quiet.
Then the tube car arrived.
"Take the next one, mindfuckers," Endra ordered, as the doors sighed open.
"I don't think we will," Tapia replied, defiantly. She'd doubted herself for a second, but regained her confidence in the lull. She was a Psi Cop, she told herself, or at least she was on the path to earning her badge. She wasn't going to let some mundane punk tell her what train car she could take. The nerve! She thought of her father, and her brother - they never would have stood there and taken this shit. No, she was going to stand her ground, even bluff it out, now that she was committed.
She stepped forward, away from the wall, toward the car.
"Yeah? Well, just come on." A silicon cutter appeared suddenly in the miner's hand, a wicked tool with an edge only a few molecules wide. Endra brandished it, and with her other hand made a gesture of contempt at least as old as ancient Rome. "Next time you freaks'll know to travel in a real pack, rather than just one old scrag and his little puppy-bitch."
"That's illegal possession of a weapon, under Earth Provisional Government regulation-"
Ysidra was still reciting the regs and reaching for her PPG when Endra threw the knife.
Like lightning, Bester sprang at Ysidra, knocking her far enough aside to save her life - but the spinning blade nevertheless slipped almost frictionlessly through her biceps. For an instant, it almost seemed as if it had missed, and then Tapia's arm sagged halfway off, blood fountaining out.
She could feel him mentally cursing himself for not intervening sooner. With the same lightning reflexes, he jammed Endra's mind and dropped her to the platform like a used tissue. Then he pulled his PPG and shot four other miners in the legs - miners who given another instant would have pulled their own weapons and attacked. He never gave them the chance. They, too, crumpled to the floor of the station platform, howling in pain.
Everyone else in the station ran, no, stampeded for the exits, or tried to press themselves into the train car, crushing those who were trying to get off. The station echoed with physical and mental screaming, with pain and panic and pandemonium.
Bester knelt quickly, took off his uniform top and undershirt, and used Endra's knife to cut a tourniquet from the undershirt. Using only his one good hand, he nonetheless tied Ysidra's arm with expert skill, then he called for medics on his link.
He laid Ysidra's head back gently. The last thing she heard before passing out was him thinking - knowing - she would live.