2256. Mars. The Psi Corps medical center in Syria Planum.
Ysidra Tapia woke up in the Psi Corps medical center, in the recovery room after emergency surgery. As the anesthesia wore off, the doctors told her they had successfully reattached the nerves, blood vessels and other tissues in her left arm - with time and physical therapy, she should make a full recovery.
"You're very lucky," one of the doctors told her. "If Mr. Bester hadn't pushed you out of the way, that blade would have gone right through your head."
They brought her to a small room. There wasn't much in the room but her bed, a small table, and a chair, but she'd gotten a "single" - almost unheard of on Mars, where space was at such a premium. Clearly she was getting VIP treatment. Because she was a Psi Cop intern? Because Mr. Bester had pulled strings? She didn't know.
The window afforded her a clear view of the city below, and in the distance, outside the dome, the snake-like train tubes that connected Mars' cities. She wondered if she would be allowed to continue her internship, after what happened. Would they decide she didn't have the temperament to be a Psi Cop, or would they let her continue once her arm was healed? She felt like a fool - she should have smiled and let it all pass, like Mr. Bester had done. But no, she'd taken the bait, and reacted. She could have stood down and taken the next car, but no - she'd escalated the fight, and brought this on herself.
Did she even deserve this internship?
There came a knock at the door.
Ysidra dimpled at the flowers. "Thank you, Mr. Bester."
"Don't mention it. Next time, though, you should try to catch the knife by the hilt."
She laughed weakly. Was it the anesthetic, or the fact that he'd saved her life? She didn't know, but she was in love.
"I'll try to remember that," she said. "If it weren't for you, I'd be dead now. I guess - I guess I lost control."
"We all do that now and then," he said. "It's perfectly natural to get frustrated, especially with mundanes. They can't understand us, any more than a blind man can understand a roomful of painters discussing a landscape."
"Oh no," she replied. "I can't imagine you'd ever do anything this foolish. Not you!"
"Oh, I've made my share of mistakes," he said, placing the flowers on the small table by her bed, and sitting down. "When I was fourteen, I ran away from school to chase a couple of dangerous rogue telepaths, on my own. One of them shot me in the chest, right through the lung. I would have died in a Parisian back alley if my own mentor hadn't found me and saved my life in the nick of time."
Ysidra's eyes widened in shock. "You? Really?"
"Indeed. And as he explained to me in the hospital the next day, it's the job of the old to look after the young. He saved my life. I saved yours. And if you live to be my age, you can do the same."
She nodded, and looked at him very seriously. "May I ask you a personal question? How have you been able to stand it all of these years?"
There was no need to contextualize - they were both telepaths, and he understood her meaning completely. She wanted to know how he could tolerate the sort of bigotry they'd experienced on the train platform - everywhere, any time he was around mundanes.
He looked her dead level in the eye. "It's very simple," he said. "I always have the Corps behind me. My family. And then, of course, I have my loving wife, and my son-"
Her mouth felt dry. Of course he was married. She was being foolish again, and blooping like a schoolgirl. At least she could blame it on the anesthetic later.
"They live here, on Mars?" she asked.
"My wife is still on Earth - though she's thinking about moving up here, next year, now that the kid's out of the house. She doesn't deal with space travel very well. My son is in the Corps back on Earth, I'm happy to say."
"You must be lonely. Haven't you ever considered requesting assignment on Earth?"
"It's hard, but I feel I'm needed here, on Mars, and with my Black Omega Squadron. As much as it hurts, we do what we must."
"It's romantic, in a way," Ysidra said aloud, before she could catch herself.
"Yes. In a way. And now I want you to get some rest, because when you get out of here, you'll have some hard training ahead of you. No slackers in the Black Omegas, I promise you."
The Black Omegas!
Had she heard that correctly? He wasn't only going to let her continue her internship - he was going to let her train for his elite squadron?! Her heart leapt.
"Yes, Mr. Bester," she said, grinning ear to ear.
He left, and she stared out the window. So it wasn't over for her, after all. And as for her arm, well, even if she never got full use of it back, her injury would only make her more like him.
She lay back on the pillows, a smile across her face.