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Dylan's Story (4)

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Gregory Keyes, Final Reckoning, p. 243:

Bester, at his trial in The Hague: "That was the choice I grew up with. Hunt down and sometimes kill my own kind, with the blessings of EarthGov and every normal citizen who voted for it, or be subjected to the same uncontrolled genocide that was visited on us in the beginning.

"You made that, each and every one of you. Oh, you might try to pawn it off on your ancestors, but you reified it each generation, gave it the nod. I spent the first seventy-two years of my life being told what a good little boy I was, how well I served humanity by hunting down my people. I have the commendations to prove it, a drawerful.

"Now, suddenly, you've decided that maybe Psi Corps wasn't such a good idea, and you want to sweep it all under the rug. You want to pretend it just went bad, somehow, and that it was my fault. You also know that isn't true."

*****

2237. EarthDome, Geneva.

From time to time, Senator Rosaki’s committee recognized and awarded Psi Cops for exceptional bravery in service to the Earth Alliance.[1] Only a few months after his arrival in Geneva, Dylan was invited to a commendation ceremony. Dylan had glanced over the list of Psi Cops to be honored, and one name jumped out – Alfred Bester.

There wasn’t a telepath alive who hadn’t heard of him: the Psi Cop who had led the raid in 2222 that had taken out notorious rogue terrorist Stephen Walters – the Black Fox. Bester was a legend and a mystery. All anyone knew for sure was that he had been telepathic from infancy, that he had been raised in Cadre Prime in Geneva – the elite cadre that for generations had raised Psi Cops and top administrators – and that he was the best Psi Cop who had ever lived.

Bester lived on Mars, but there were rumors he had an estranged wife on Earth.[2] Some rumors said he had a son,[3] others that he had a daughter[4] – others said the child wasn’t really his at all.[5]

Some folks claimed to know Bester's wife and son, and swore the child was an adolescent boy. Others insisted that Bester himself had told them he had a little girl.

In none of the stories did Bester have more than one child, so which was the truth? And perhaps more importantly, no one could figure out why Bester would lie about such things. Why would he change the child's age or gender? Did he have a happy marriage, as he often told people,[6] or was he estranged from his wife, as others claimed? When he spoke of his personal life (which wasn't often), it wasn't always clear which parts were true, and which parts weren't.

Did he just like to be mysterious, for its own sake - or was there more to the story?

His origins were also a mystery. Bester steadfastly maintained that he had been orphaned as an infant in a rogue attack in Geneva that killed his (Corps) parents,[7] but rumors in the Corps said his genealogical records were empty, listing him as related to no one at all.[8]

Genealogical record keeping was paramount in the Corps, so proper genetic matches could be made for marriage.[9] It was absolutely unheard of for anyone in the Corps to be listed as related to no one at all - if the rumors were true (and few other than Bester himself had access to the records in question), then his origins were even more mysterious than ever. Many in the Corps dismissed the rumors - there were so many rumors in the Corps, after all, and no doubt many were false. (Bester's child, for instance, couldn't simultaneously be both a toddler and an adolescent!) The Corps was filled with rumors - personal, political, and strange. A rumor and two bits, as the saying went, couldn't buy a cup of coffee.

Other telepaths, however, concluded that Bester must have secretly been related to someone powerful enough to have the records of his parentage destroyed. Extramarital affairs in the Corps were very common, but few had the power to hide the truth from the Corps when children resulted. Bester, the theory went, had to be the secret love-child of someone with considerable authority or access. He or she had destroyed the records so as to hide the affair.[10]

Such a story, at least, was the logical conclusion. Many among the younger generation of telepaths, however, preferred a more fantastical explanation for the rumors of Bester’s origins – perhaps he had simply materialized out of thin air, literally born from the spirit of the Corps, his physical mother and father.[11] Records could be altered, sure, but why would they be erased entirely? Maybe he had never been orphaned at all – maybe he had materialized as a baby and been discovered by the Corps. Maybe records listed no earthly parents because he had never had any.

Among the younger generation, there was considerable romantic appeal in the notion of child springing forth from the Corps itself and growing up to become its most famous and decorated hero. Bester scoffed at such foolishness, but to the younger generation, the now-grown children who’d pinned posters of him to their wall and dreamed of becoming Psi Cops, he was a legend – and so it felt right that his origins should also be the stuff of legend.

Cameras hovered[12] around the Senate function hall, recording the commendation ceremony for ISN and for posterity. Dylan was sure he would later see some of this footage in Psi Corps news vids. Maybe, if he was lucky, he’d even get into the background of a shot.

Rosaki, standing at the Senate podium with Director Johnston by her side, pinned each Psi Cop with his or her commendation, smiling warmly. Johnston scowled. Rosaki gave a short speech lauding their achievements and exceptional service, bravery and dedication. Most were young, in their twenties and thirties. For some, it was their first commendation, and they glowed with pride. Bester, one of the few Psi Cops present over the age of forty - indeed, he was nearing fifty - took his (twelfth) Senate commendation as if it were merely routine. Of course he was the best – he’d been born and raised to be nothing less.

Rosaki heaped on the praises for him. There was nothing Bester wouldn’t do to serve the Earth Alliance: he regularly volunteered for the most dangerous assignments, risking life and limb daily to protect society from dangerous rogue telepaths. Rosaki declared him the model Psi Cop, continuously raising the bar in service, dedication and sacrifice. Dylan thought she sounded a bit like a Corps motivational poster, the kind that adorned the walls of schools. Sacrifice brings honor… We are selflessly loyal to the Earth Alliance and her Constitution…

This time he and his team had located and neutralized a dangerous cell of rogue telepaths on Mars, a cell that had been planning to bomb the offices of the EA Provisional Government in Syria Planum. They'd located and killed the dangerous terrorists, she told the crowd, and saved countless lives. The room erupted in applause.

Johnston scowled even more deeply than before, unable to hide a deep personal hatred for Bester.[13]

I keep my telepaths close, Rosaki had once said. Dylan had never forgotten those words. He looked around the hall and wondered who exactly it was who was keeping whom close. The Corps needed the Senate, too – the Senate controlled the Corps’ purse strings.

A reception followed the ceremony, with drinks, hors d’oeuvres and shooter desserts. On the surface, the reception seemed friendly, joyous even, but the jovial calm belied the layers of distrust that Dylan could feel lurking under the surface on both sides of the gloves. It was, Dylan mused, a little like some arranged marriages - both sides needed each other, both sides had to keep up appearances, but neither trusted the other, and some folks at the reception harbored deeper, darker sentiments toward the other party, feelings they would never express in polite company.

The normals hovered around the function room, eating with their fingers off of small plates, chatting, drinks in hand. The display included a variety of foods Dylan couldn’t eat without cutlery: mozzarella balls, meat balls, fresh fruit. He sighed – he had learned shortly after graduation how challenging gloves made even the simplest things. Dylan didn’t feel like he belonged anywhere, with the normals or with the telepaths – he was the only telepath under P12 in the room – but like everyone in gloves, he needed silverware to eat. He didn't fit in anywhere, but the gloves (as always) decided which "side" he was on, and he reluctantly sat down with several Psi Cops around his own age, and introduced himself.

“Were you raised in the Corps?” was the first question. It was usually the first question in any conversation with Corps-raised telepaths.

“No, my parents are normals.” And I’m a later, he didn’t have to say, feeling terribly inferior.

“Don’t feel bad about it,” one of the men said, “even some of us Psi Cops were born to normal parents.”[14]

“I went to school with several,” said a woman. “There’s no need to feel ashamed.”

They meant it, but Dylan felt inferior anyway.

The others exchanged stories. Dylan felt left out – he had little common ground, no stories to share. He ate quietly. He didn’t think they’d want to hear about his unglamorous upbringing outside Buffalo. He sat quietly as they chatted about their respective parents and grandparents in the Corps. He had no such stories to share – he couldn’t even make them up, because everyone would know he was lying.

So he ate, and listened to typical Corps gossip about people he didn’t know - mostly rumors about who was cheating on whom, with whom - and thought about Rosaki. He worked so hard for her, he had no friends in Geneva. He hadn’t had time to meet any.

But he wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to meet one of the Corps’ biggest celebrities. He found Mr. Bester seated at a table in front of an untouched plate of hors d’oeuvres and a glass of red wine.

“A pleasure to meet you, sir,” Dylan said.

“And you are?”

“Dylan Valle, aide to Senator Rosaki.” Dylan moved to shake hands, but the Psi Cop just nodded. Dylan dropped his hand. “Congratulations on your commendation.”

“Thank you.”

“I wanted to let you know I have a lot of respect for the work that you and other Psi Cops do to keep us all safe,” Dylan said, nervously.

Bester nodded.

“Of course I’ve seen the documentary vids about the Black Fox Raid,” Dylan continued. “Everyone’s seen the vids. I was wondering… is it true that you were injured?”

The Psi Cop raised his left hand a bit, nonchalantly. Dylan saw he had it in a fist. “Useless,” he replied.

Dylan considered the legendary Psi Cop’s sacrifice. “How were you able to return to work, with use of only one hand?”

“Because,” he said, tapping his head with his right forefinger, “the real work of a Psi Cop takes place up here. It’s about knowing your target, understanding them, predicting them – where they’ll go, what they’ll do, how they’ll do it. The rest is firepower, and bloodhounds provide us with that. The real battle takes place in the mind, and it’s already over before the first shot is fired. Both sides already know who will win,[15] and of course that’s us.”

Dylan nodded.

“I was once quite skilled in martial arts, in my youth,”[16] Bester continued. “All future Psi Cops should study martial arts in school. It builds skills, character, the right frame of mind.”

“That makes sense, sir,” Dylan said.

What do you really think of Rosaki?

Just like that, the question was in Dylan’s mind. He wondered if the other telepaths at the table had even heard. They didn’t look up from their conversations.

The bluntness and suddenness of the question sent Dylan into a spin – how honest should he be? If he wasn’t honest, the Psi Cop would know. He didn’t have time to gather his thoughts, or to be evasive.

Seconds passed, like minutes. The legendary Psi Cop was watching.

Loyal. Dedicated. Hard-working, he ‘cast.

He felt the feather-light touch of a scan.

“It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Dylan,” the Psi Cop said with a false smile, hardly three seconds after Dylan’s last spoken words. “If you’ll excuse me, I have other business to attend to. I’m a very popular man tonight. It’s been a good day.” He gestured. “Be seeing you.”

Bester turned to talk to someone else, and Dylan walked away, feeling like he’d just failed a big, important test – one it had been impossible to prepare for. He regretted his decision to introduce himself, and sheepishly sat back down at his table.

“So,” asked the woman seated to Dylan’s left, “what do you think?”

“Excuse me?”

The young Psi Cop gestured. “You introduced yourself to Mr. Bester.”

“Yes. He’s… quite famous, and I wanted to meet him.”

“Well? What do you think?”

For a moment, he debated telling her about the scan, but decided not to. “I’m not sure what to think,” he said, diplomatically.

She gestured at Dylan as she looked at her friends. “Politician,” she joked.

Everyone laughed, even Dylan. He didn’t know whether he’d just been insulted.

“Well, what do you think?” Dylan asked.

“He gives me the creeps,” she replied.[17] “Oh, he’s the best Psi Cop who’s ever lived, there’s no debate there. He’s saved more telepath and normal lives than anyone can count.[18] He’s a real hero,[19] unlike us kids who got lucky and ended up in the right place at the right time, and just did our jobs. He’s the real thing. But he still gives me the creeps.”

“Why?”

“I don’t honestly know,” she said. “Maybe it’s because he’s so… unknown.”

“He’s done eight necroscans,”[20] someone chimed in. “You need more evidence than that? That's insane. No one does eight necroscans.[21] He set a record at seven.”[22]

“He’s a loner,”[23] another Psi Cop added. “Strange duck.”

The others agreed. “All work,” someone else said. “No one has any idea what’s under that, if there is anything left… especially after those eight necroscans!”[24]

They shook their heads in disbelief, and a mixture of admiration and horror.

“Life in the Corps is very cooperative,” someone else told Dylan, as if he were a newcomer and had to be taught the obvious.[25] “But his attitude is always very… ‘we’re all a team and I’m in charge.’ Alpha male. Ambitious.[26] He gets the job done, but he’s not always… popular.”[27]

“I think he likes being creepy,” the first woman continued, “keeping everyone on their toes, making sure we don’t get too comfortable.”

Dylan nodded. “Yes. When I introduced myself, he tested me.”

“He does that to everyone,” one of the men replied. “Don’t take it personally. He trusts no one.”[28]

Dylan nodded, but he didn’t feel better. That test had meant something more – he just wasn’t sure what. And he'd failed it.

“I bet Mr. Bester sleeps with a gun under his pillow,” someone said. “He has to, if he’s lived this long in the field.”

“I bet he bathes with one!”[29]

Laughter.

 

[1] See above. See also Dark Genesis, p. 90 (Desa Alexander awarded the Gold Shield and the Crossed Arrow by the EA Senate for “outstanding service to the Earth Alliance and for Bravery, Integrity and Honor”).

[2] Deadly Relations, p. 176-180 (they court and marry), p. 184-186 (his wife has an affair), p. 189-190 (breaking up with his wife and getting reassigned to Mars, leaving her on Earth, also knowing the child might not be his)

[3] Deadly Relations, p. 196 (mentions having a grown-up son, although he’s also lying about his family)

[4] A Race Through Dark Places (“Would it interest you to know that I’m married, Mr. Garibaldi? That I have a 5-year-old daughter? That on Sundays when I’m back home, we pack a picnic lunch, and go out under the dome on Syria Planum and watch the stars come out?”). See also Ship of Tears (“I thought you had a wife and daughter back on Mars.” “I do.”)

[5] Final Reckoning, p. 58 (“The Corps had arranged a marriage, of course, a genetic match guaranteed to produce telepathic offspring [of equal strength]. There had never been love there, though for a time he had thought there might be at least companionship. Until he had come home to find Alisha in the arms of another man. He supposed he was married still, and his son - if indeed it was his son, which he very much doubted - was a stranger. No, probably during or after the telepath wars Alisha had sued for a divorce.”), p. 161 ("Could he have family here?" "Family? You know better than that. Bester wasn't just raised by the Corps, they gave birth to him. There are absolutely no records linking him to any other human being.” “I noticed that. That’s weird, even for the old Psi Corps. Keeping track of genealogies, notably for breeding purposes, was everything, especially back then.”) If Alisha’s son was his genetically, the Corps would have kept that record, thus corroborating what we already know from Deadly Relations, that the child is not his.

[6] The Corps is Mother the Corps is Father. Just as Bester tells Ysidra Tapia that he is happily married to deflect her affections, he says something similar to Lauren, another of his interns. ("I was told you were married. Is she...?" "No. We have a residence in Syria Planum. She stays there most of the time. I see her when I can." "It must be nice. Someone who will wait for you. Someone who will love you." "And if my wife ever found out about her... Private joke. Look, it's getting late. You should go back to your room." "Yes. Or I could stay here." "Lauren, you're a very sweet young woman, but my heart is already taken. She's not... She's not here right now, but I hope she will be someday. Now, if that changes, you'll be the first to know. But for now, I think you should go back to your room. And don't worry about this tomorrow. You shouldn't be embarrassed about anything, because nothing did happen.")

Why he would lead her on with "Now if that changes, you'll be the first to know" doesn't make much sense (he has no intention of getting involved romantically with his interns), and is one of the many wrong notes in this episode. (The other "wrong notes" are much further off course, and will be covered later.)

[7] Deadly Relations, p. 37 (Bester is told as a child that his parents had been killed when rogues bombed Teeptown), p. 56 (same), p. 124 (Even Elizabeth Montoya seems to feel Bester has materialized out of the spirit of the Corps, even if she's probably being sarcastic: "You were raised in the Corps, weren't you?" "Yes, my biological parents were Corps, but they died when I was very young." "You sure about that?" "What's that supposed to mean?" "I don't know. Have you ever seen any evidence that they really existed?" - Bester is pretty offended by this), p. 165-166 (confrontation with Black Fox, where Bester says that his parents were in the Corps, and they were killed by a bomb planted by the Dexters), The Corps is Mother the Corps is Father, wherein the story is yet again a little different, and this time he spent time in a normal foster home: ("How did the Corps find you?" My parents were killed in an accident. I was barely a month old. When I was put into a foster home, I turned up in the random DNA checks. The Corps took me in, raised me and taught me that because we're special we need to watch out for each other even more than we would as mundanes. We're responsible for each other.")

[8] Final Reckoning, p. 161 (Canon doesn't specify that this mystery about Bester's origins was leaked until after the Crisis (Telepath War), but since rumors in the Corps, both true and untrue, are so common, I decided it's plausible that such rumors circulated during the years of the Corps.)

[9] Canon first tells us of Bester’s lack of genealogical records in Final Reckoning, p. 161 (Bester refuses to check his ancestry much earlier in Deadly Relations, p. 170, worried that checking might itself hurt his career, and that people might have tampered with his genealogical records to hurt him). However, were knowledge of his lack of records ever to leak, this would be people’s logical inference to explain the anomaly.

[10] Final Reckoning, p. 161. He is, in fact, related to someone powerful enough to have his records erased, but for a different reason that no one would suspect. (And a secret affair was involved, but it was his mother who was born of that, not Bester himself.)

[11] Final Reckoning, p. 161. Garibaldi: “Family? You know better than that. Bester wasn’t just raised by the Corps, they gave birth to him. There are absolutely no records linking him to any other human being.” If Garbaldi is seeing it this way, then surely there are those in the Corps who do as well, and with a pinch more legend.

[12] Cameras hover. And Now for a Word, The Illusion of Truth.

[13] Johnston has a personal hatred for Bester. Deadly Relations, p. 10-11 (even when Bester is a small child), 78-79, 110, 147, 254. And then there are all the times he tried to kill Bester (and failed).

[14] Examples of Psi Cops/P12s whose parents were normals: Dr. Sandoval Bey (Bester's mentor and father figure), Elizabeth Montoya (Bester's first girlfriend, who almost made it to graduation), all of Bester’s classmates in Psi Cop training on p. 126, Ysidra Tapia (one of Bester's trainees), Alisha Ross (Bester's wife who, though not a Psi Cop, is also a P12 who was born to normal parents. She entered the Corps at age eight).

[15] Deadly Relations, p. 40 ("Take note," [the martial arts instructor] said. "Mr. Bester used the minimum motion necessary. He fought the battle where it really takes place-in the mind. He won before he began his attack. Mr. Jackson is a bigger man, but his mind is weaker." He gazed around at the group - all second - year students in the Minor Academy. "Attention. Class dismissed." They all bowed in unison.)

[16] Deadly Relations, p. 40, 87, Final Reckoning, p. 81. ("Bester wiped a little sweat from his brow. When he had been in the Corps, he had followed a fairly strict exercise regime. Sure, a good Psi Cop wasn't often called on to possess physical dexterity, other than marksmanship, but he had learned early that when those times did come, it was usually a matter of life and death. So he had practiced various martial arts, run a few miles every day.")

[17] Epiphanies. Lyta: “I interned with the Psi Cops as a field assistant. They’re trained to make others nervous, but Bester makes even other Psi Cops nervous.” Garibaldi: “Hell, the guy can make poison ivy nervous.”

[18] Final Reckoning, p. 462. (Bester, to the court: "You want to know who the real telepathic Resistance was? It was us [the Corps]. Protecting ourselves against you. Sure, along the way we protected you, too, whether you knew it or not, and more than you will ever know.")

[19] A Psi Cop intern refers to Bester as a hero in The Corps is Mother the Corps is Father. ("You know, Chen thought you were a hero. Tell you the truth, I wasn't sure if I still believed in heroes. But I have never seen anyone fight for our people the way you do.")

[20] Deadly Relations, p. 187. ("He waited impatiently as the fellow was taken into surgery. He had chosen a mundane, in a mundane hospital, volunteering through the court system. That likely meant that MetaPol didn't yet know he was doing this. If they did, they might try to stop him, and he couldn't have that. Every moment he had to wait increased the chances someone in his division would realize what he was up to. No matter what, this was the last time. The Corps couldn't possibly risk one of their best - and yes, he was one of their best, there was no need for false humility - on an eighth deathbed scan. That was okay. One more was all he needed.")

[21] Deadly Relations, p. 174 (“Al, nobody does five necroscans.”)

[22] Deadly Relations, p. 182 (“Seven would make him a legend, after a fashion.”)

[23] Throughout, even when Bester is a small child. See Deadly Relations, p. 8. ("You're not a bad guy, Alfie, just a little weird," Brett confided. "I'm not weird." "You're always playing alone, always have, even when we were really little.") See also p. 87. (Bey: "The Corps deserves cadets who live to pay it back for their training, who don't end up dead or as mewling idiots in a hospital ward. That is where you are headed, Mr. Bester. You have no friends. You run, you practice martial arts, you drill unsupervised in your 'spare' time. All solitary activities. And this is how you've lived, as far as I can tell, for your entire short life." Bester: "I don't really get along with others very well, sir." Bey: "No, you don't. That's exactly the problem.")

[24] Paragon of Animals. Lyta: “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. I’ve only been through it twice. I’ve seen other telepaths who’ve been through it four or five times. And you look into their eyes... and there’s nothing there anymore. The rumor around Psi Corps is that’s what happened to Mr. Bester. Did you know that? ... They say he was always volunteering for deathbed scans. I guess he wanted to know what was on the other side. They say he was there, inside someone's mind, when they died, and he went too deep. Saw more than anyone should ever see. And when the door closed, the rest of him, maybe the best of him, never came back.” See also Deadly Relations, p. 277, during the eighth necroscan, “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, “Once, he had lost his soul - not figuratively, but literally. He had been much younger, and had volunteered to perform deathbed scans. These were often necessary in the case of a victim of a violent crime, who might know the face of his killer, or of a mortally wounded rogue who could reveal where his comrades were hiding out. It was hard and dangerous, following someone into death. Most telepaths could only stand to do it once. A few had done as many as four. 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?”

[25] For example, see the cadre bonding in Deadly Relations, p. 4-6 (as children), p. 53 (as teenagers). For Academy team exercises that require cooperation, see Deadly Relations, p. 110-111, 126-127

[26] Deadly Relations, p. 23, when Bester has just turned seven (by telepath age reckoning): “I want to be a Psi Cop, sir.” “Why?” ... “It’s because to be a Psi Cop you have to be the best. The very best.” “And you want people to know you are the best.” “Yes, sir.” “You know that’s the wrong answer, don’t you, Alfred?” “Yessir.”) See also Deadly Relations, p. 42-43, when Bester is fifteen: “Van Ark chuckled. “How long have you been coming in here anyway, Mr. Bester? Four years now? You follow these Blips like some kids follow baseball or soccer.” “Yes, sir. When I become a Psi Cop, I want to know who they are.” “When? Not if? You’ve certainly got no problem with confidence, Mr. Bester. Anyway, it’s good to see a youngster taking such an active interest. You’re a good example. Still-” he widened his hands expressively “-you’re in here every day, rain or shine! Don’t you ever just take a day off? Fly a kite, take a girl on a picnic? When you get to be my age, you'll regret it.” Al reflected - very carefully, very controlled - that when he got as old as Van Ark, he intended to have a much higher rank than [Van Ark’s rank of only] lieutenant, whether the title was spoken or not.”) See also Deadly Relations, p. 108, 200

[27] For example, see Deadly Relations, p. 8, 46-48, 52-53 (not fitting in with his peers)

[28] Deadly Relations, p. 37, 89, 110, 186. See also Final Reckoning and the tragic story of Louise.

[29] Deadly Relations, p. 225