Depending upon perspective, this example of a mutation which represents the further evolution of the human species may be the easiest or most difficult to define. As with some of the others, previously discussed, this ability finds its seed in the human mind. The difference, in this case, is that it stays there. While other psychic abilities may have an effect on the corporeal world around us, telepathy is an ability which has an effect only on those things which make up the inner world of a man.
In order to describe the ways in which telepathy may manifest itself, one must consider the abstracted levels of thought going on constantly in the human mind. In the reader's mind, there are words filtering through the language processing centers of the brain and forming into sentences which later give rise to thoughts within the reader. Then there are those thoughts which are not sought out by an individual, like the reader, which are likely occurring in the reader's mind right now. Distractions, memories, counterarguments, plans, affections. Every conscious thought within the human mind and even those hidden away in the subconscious mind are the domain of telepathic ability.
Imagine, for a moment, that a keen sense of intuition is enhanced beyond assumption, that it can truly sense the content of another mind. This is the most basic sense in which a person may be a telepath. Theoretically, this applied enhancement of intuition could aid an individual's survival and therefore remain in the human gene pool. Much further down the line of this evolution, the gene may develop into an individual's ability to have clear access to any and all of the above-mentioned different levels and types of thought that concern the human mind.
[…] The mechanism involved in any telepathic ability which may be observed in humans could, perhaps, be traced to the electromagnetic field which blankets the Earth. Everything on the planet is touched by the force of electromagnetism including the human brain. While this ability may, among the possible mutations discussed, seem to be the most metaphysical and speculative, it is entirely possible that thoughts themselves have a significant enough signature within this force which bears upon all our bodies that certain individuals may become sensitive to their presence. […] Increased awareness of the world around us has led to the human species' survival and dominance over this planet. As the world itself continues to change and evolve, these adaptations to become more aware of its inner workings, of our inner workings, seem to be an obvious path for the furtherance of the human species' fight and continued triumph against the odds which have continued to wipe away the old and herald in the new.
Xavier, Charles F., Genetic Mutation: The Potential of Mankind and Its Path Forward, PhD Thesis, Oxford University, 1962.
The above is presented without a great deal of terribly relevant commentary and with a great deal of since-antiquated research omitted. It is simply the clearest representation of how little I understood my power, mere months ago when the cited body of work was deemed fit work to grant me the title Professor of Genetics. Granted, it was written for an audience who could not know of my intimate acquaintance with the subject, but this single allowance does little to mask my own pitiable arrogance about my purely hypothetical dreams for what my power might one day mean. What it means today.
At this particular moment, it means that sitting across my study from you, poring once more over this frankly silly document in front of me. I happen to know that you are thinking of the color mauve. Not so simply as that, I am sure, but I know that you are because you note a particular part of the pattern in the rug beneath your stockinged feet as you kneel once more and hoist up another few thick volumes of brand new books into an emptied shelf. I could guess—no, I could learn—why you note the mauve and then tell you, but we are past such party tricks.
Fingertip dangerously close to slicing along an edge of rougher paper found atop my desk, I know I could open my mouth to speak and that you would listen. I also know that were I to touch your mind with conversational words you would hardly flinch. I know that if I could talk to you about what my telepathy means to me, in my present state, that you would pretend never to tire of it because some part of you refuses to tire of me. I wish I knew how to thank you for that.
I could tell you how telepathy, when kept to itself as mine is held at bay at the moment, has a funny way of deepening thought. Ghostly flashes of things I know—images, thoughts, facts, theories, feelings—all not my own, stolen away, resurface and give me access to a much greater memory than my other natural faculties give me any right to.
- - -
An unseasonably cold Sunday morning, March 1959. The first time I awakened to realize I had forgotten to see to Raven at the pub before I left her since we had moved to Oxford.
My fingers curled first and found themselves tangled in silky and full raven hair. Raven. I knew I should go, but my head ached and the sensation of the girl—her name, her name right on the tip of my dry tongue—breathing steadily made me ache for warmth against my goosebumps. No longer lost in the fog of alcohol, it wasn't uninhibited desire that drew me to her but instead simply her body heat and the smell of her perfume and only hours old sweat. I sincerely doubted that any of conservative academia had studied any link between dreadful, confusing hangovers and bonding. I wondered if they should, because for those few moments as I inched up onto my elbow and drew a ream of black silk away from deep, rich skin to reveal a warm, dark neck, shoulder, and jaw, I think I loved her.
“Good morning,” I croaked out in one of the least flattering tones I have ever managed in bed. Trying again to moisten a sandpaper tongue, I softly kissed the young woman's cheek to rouse her from sleep. Upon drawing back, found that her eyes were blinking through heavy, still-painted lashes.
“What are you doing?” she asked in an accent that was not English like mine, not American like my sister's, but like everything else I was having trouble placing it that morning.
I noticed that she was remarking then indicating with the gentle brushing of her soft fingertips, the bar of my forearm in front of her as the upper part of the same arm draped around her. I saw some mild scrutiny in her eyes and I wanted to understand it but my headache blocked off my access to the appropriate question. Instead I noted my own lingering, seemingly cycling goosebumps.
“Did you know that those tiny prickles of muscle beneath my skin were once responsible for fluffing up feathers or fur I might have had to impress you?”
“You're just cold,” she replied flatly.
“Now, that's unkind.”
Rather than an equally quipped reply, I found that my arm was being carefully lifted and ducked beneath. A very thin robe that only just graced the girl's thick, warm, missed thighs was already covering her and I realized that I was as naked as the day I had been born. She casually wandered over to her large vanity mirror that seemed too tightly fit into the small bedroom that smelled of wood as warm as the color of her skin and caught my tracking gaze in the reflection.
“You're lovely,” she said with a soft smile, but then she returned her attention wholly to her vanity, fingers grazing along it among brushes and powders and things until she found her hairbrush and began to work it through her hair.
“Aren't you freezing?” I complained.
“No, but I've got to go out this morning. You'll forgive me? I've only got the one key, so I'm afraid we must hurry. I'll let you use my toothbrush, this once.”
In the next few moments as I sat still then began to move, gathering my clothes and covering myself, bundling back up for the strange cold air, through the din of my headache, I noticed how the occasional forced smile or the concentrating crease in my companion's brow was mostly kept for herself. I also knew that there must have been some secret I kept to myself, but I wished to bridge that divide. If only I could tell her I wanted to know, I wanted to remember what had brought us to her place, her bed on a night so cold.
And that was when I recalled that I did not have to ask, so as my jumper went over my head and my arms settled once more, my fingertips came to my temple in a familiar little motion, casually massaging a little circle against my skin. Those first things on the surface of her mind were usual, expected distraction, preoccupation—with her hair and with time and trying to remember where the clothes she wanted were. Deeper than that, though, I watched her but didn't stare as I searched for the traces of myself in her mind.
And when I found them, for the first time I learned what it was to be simply human to someone. And by that I don't mean that she was simply unaware of my telepathy, since at that time not many people knew. What I mean is that I was valued but only so deep. I was 'lovely' and what that entailed in her mind, and I was 'good' with respect to the proceedings the night before—though I hardly know how I could have been, intoxicated as I had been, but she had been nearly so intoxicated, too. But then, a little deeper into her mind I began to see through her eyes—the stolen glance at a gilded and sparkling brooch, the pin prick of regret that rippled through her mind in slow concentric waves, and I realized some shade of why she had been my lover for a night but would never be mine.
There was no blame, nothing quite so easily identifiable as regret, only a place she went in her mind's eye, somewhere far away. A place where she belonged and I did not. So there I was dressed and waiting and she was half-dressed and fidgeting and utterly beautiful as she made the rest of her preparations to show me out, but I didn't have the right thing to say to her. It was not my words she needed—only my flesh and only for moments already past—not my words. Because I was only a person and the thing in her head—a man, a life, a family, I didn't have the nerve to peer deeper—was so much more than a man, than me the man, me the person, me the only-a-human-being.
- - -
F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote: “The loneliest moment in someone's life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.”
In the time since that day, I have wondered which of us was most watching the lives we had before pass us by, vanish in an instant while at the same time languidly wash away in the low tide. The pain I felt went ignored, as best I could manage, until Erik and Raven and the others had gone. I have questioned why I made the decision not to say, not to scream, what I feared and have since found true, but I think it is all to do with being found simply human in Erik's eyes.
He would deny it. To this day, I can tell you, even with no touch on his mind—wherever he is—that he would deny it. Because even though he left me, there is no way to account, in his mind, for my being only human. But I think he saw it in me that day, as I watched his vision of us—of what we were to be together, building up our species—crumble down into the tears I could not contain within my eyes. I didn't need telepathy for that.
He saw my weakness, my fragility, and that I was only made up of those same parts that all our human enemies depended on for their lives. A spine—integral to locomotion and the communication between the brain and other parts of the body—among other things. After all, my difference, my uniqueness, my mutation, afforded me no special immunity from bullets and my protective clothing failed me too because of the force with which Erik's power propelled even the tiny piece of metal.
Seeing what we were both still made of, in spite of all we had accomplished in our time together, I watched the intense focus with which Erik watched me. I listened to his insistence that we wanted the same things, but I could not give him that satisfaction. I also could not give him that burden, and had my sister not had the thought to suggest it, I do not know how I might have placed it upon you in his place. Perhaps by some convention, the things I have faced in this time that has followed should have been Erik's to bear, but I could not do that to him—anymore than he could have done anything more to hurt me.
What happened as he gathered his small batch of recruits and vanished into an ancient ether to wind up God knows where doesn't matter to this memory, the one that my mind rushes over again and again, only to be broken against the jagged rock that it cannot penetrate that kept and keeps me out of Erik's mind. What matters is that just as I took those first steps into my momentary lover's mind, years before I laid eyes on Erik, I was faced with the same staggering realization that no matter how high we climb or how far we fly, in the end we are left staring into something very bound to the earth, anchored in each other, that we find fails to meet our expectations, our needs. Erik needed me to be more than human, and I could speculate as to why from the ghostly images of his beautiful, dark and bright-edged mind, but it would seem unfair. I have already made one such mistake.
- - -
The first time I began to have a notion about what might be the best-guess (after all, there was no established testing standard for telepathy) for the mechanism behind my mutation was in October of that first year, 1959. My mate Ian and I were walking, late in the evening when the halls had gone mostly dim, past a physics laboratory. Something disturbed me, setting my skin alive with goosebumps that were nothing to do with the temperature, bundled as I was for the autumn air in a well-made coat. I lost the focus of my attention on present conversation and my gaze was drawn inexplicably and slightly to the left, just in time for me to read the plaque on the door.
“Come on. You look like you've seen a ghost,” Ian interjected, and when he touched my arm just above the elbow, I started.
“No, not quite,” I answered, looking back to my friend's eyes. “I thought I—“ But there was no future in explaining the way there had been a thrum in the air, something equally as unnatural as it felt innate, primal. A wave washed over me, through me, and I didn't understand it because the sensation had only been barely physical. The end effect, however, was the rippling of a feeling, a feeling not my own. Not terribly remarkable, really, for the radiated feelings of one in a physics lab. Concentration, admiration for something abstract born of very concrete, real principles, the quiet pleasure at making the observable into something explicable. Many of my own minor, quiet academic ambitions and enjoyments, echoed back to me but in a tone and tempo I did not recognize as my own mind, that I recognized as that of another. “—heard something,” I eventually finished, placing a gloved hand to the door, just barely testing to see if it was locked. It gave slightly against my touch and I glanced back over my shoulder at Ian. “Do you mind if we pop in for a bit?”
“The Physics Lab?” Ian inquired, actually a complaint and he didn't bother to hold back a sigh in spite of his polite smile. “Alright, Professor,” he teased, but granted even the slightest permission I was drawn in such that I heard him as if through a wall.
Crouched down, elbows perched on a metal surface, I saw the back of a man with nice but fairly unremarkable brown hair. My eyes followed the line of his spine which was a little more easy to see with the strain that his position put upon his white coat. I had never seen him before, never spoken, and for a few seconds I was aware that his focus was so great on the small magnetic device before him—probably some species of magneto, fancy that—that he had not yet discerned my presence. The device was behaving strangely, by his own special design, and I knew that was where the strange thrum that went straight through me had come from when it came once again and the man moved back. I wasn't sure if it was in frustration or satisfaction because the later thrum fed me only a name: Thomas.
“Damn,” was the first thing Thomas said to me—and to Ian, I suppose—as he turned to me (us). He'd been startled. “What are you two doing in here? It's after hours.”
“I'm sorry, have we intruded upon something private? The door was unlocked,” I provided quickly, eager to be the first to speak. I felt Ian move up to my side but his physical presence—normally familiar and benign—set me on edge and I smiled faintly at him but it was tight and I felt a little guilty for the abrupt change in my senses, but I couldn't entirely account for them in the moment.
“No, I just expect privacy this time of night. Not that I demand it,” Thomas answered and his smile worked its way into his voice as he spoke and took a few more steps to meet us between the work surfaces in the lab. His eyes were the most brilliant green, wholly making up for the friendly mediocrity of his hair.
“Charles and I were just out to the pub—I can hardly bribe him there, but he never regrets it—“ Ian attempted to regale Thomas, only to stop with a soft, distinct sound of his tongue going back into a more neutral place. He was glancing between us—myself and Thomas—and his hand on my shoulder loosened and he pulled me close to him in the closest he dared to an embrace I realized later. He saw something I did not, and I felt that he did and it drove me a little mad until I met the aforementioned impressive green eyes. “—Shall I trust Charles to bring you along when your... experiment is finished up? More the merrier,” he quipped instead.
“Are you sure?” I asked, lifting a hand and feeling like my gloved fingers were thick as clumsy sausages as they brushed the skin just above my ear, pushing past my hair. I felt a light smack to my hand and for a dull moment I considered telling Ian he was not my mother, but then I was reminded that such a statement, given that he'd been touching me, was moot and obvious. Instead my hand did drop and sheepish smile returned as I looked to Thomas and nodded over to is equipment. “I would love to see what you're doing...”
“Oh,” Thomas started to dismiss, glancing over with a half-shrug as if he anticipated that he was being mocked. I shook my head slightly when he looked to me and he realized my earnestness, so he gestured for me to come ahead of him and toward his work station. “Lovely to meet you—“ he prompted (and dismissed) Ian.
“Ian,” Ian helpfully provided and he was already at the door. “I expect to see both of you at the pub. That is, if I haven't already finally gotten off to someplace with—what's her name, Charles?”
“Keep up with your own bloody girlfriends,” I said automatically, but I was almost grateful for the way it loosened my tongue. I really did wonder if he was looking out for me in some way, uncomfortable, or some combination of the two. My mind was so focused on Thomas and the strange, uneven feeling the magnet gave my head that I didn't bother to check.
“Lydia,” Ian sighed. And then that was the last we saw of him.
That is until we made it to the pub which wasn't for a further hour and a half.
First, there was a series of explanations, touching of metal and brushes of fingertips that were familiar but at once familiar and new to me. I wasn't one to knock it, but I was fascinated, confused, and enraptured by Thomas's explanation of his (relatively simple but no less impressive) experiments.
The phases of our evening might have been characterized as follows: explanation, walking, pub, drinking, and then a certain number of things that don't exactly defy explanation but which I won't belabor explaining.
- - -
“Why did you want to save me?” Erik asked me once, in a pointlessly acquired hotel room somewhere not justifiably far enough from the base in Virginia. (Lucky thing about ultimately being a subject the United States government would like to cover up: they don't tend to closely audit your reported expenses.)
Still staring up at the ceiling, hands loosely hanging over my abdomen as I caught my breath and tried to account for why I had ever allowed any of this and equally critiquing my own reticence, I finally glanced over and up at where Erik was seated against the simple headboard. His lips were quirked up at the corners in a way that terrified me then, right into a boyish shiver. He didn't seem to notice, staring at his own toes were he'd worked them out from beneath the blankets that covered us both.
“What?” I asked, though I could hardly have pretended not to have heard in any meaningful way.
“How did you know I needed saving?” he pursued, and a part of what felt like quivering feeling already twisting in my chest recoiled a little when he sounded amused at my efforts. But then, I knew that.
“Everyone's needed it sometime,” I answered with a bit of a grumble.
“That's not what I asked, Charles.”
Erik's scary smirk turned into a little bit more of a snarl that had me sitting up, arms barred over my knees but body turned slightly to him, paying closer attention.
“You're awfully skittish—“ he commented, and in my instinctive, nearly effortless reaching out—after all, magnetism always thrummed, thrums around Erik, and I couldn't really help it—I saw that he was about to question if I had some moral objection to what we had done. And I could have written him a separate thesis on why I did not have any moral objection to it, but instead I simply shook my head earnestly, preemptively.
“No, my friend,” I promised him, the epithet bearing as much affection as I dared at the moment. “I simply answered the question I thought most needed answering—but perhaps that's not right?”
“It rarely is. You're a polite man, Charles. Don't pretend,” Erik said, and from the slight relaxation around his eyes I could tell I was getting at least somewhere.
“Not hardly so polite as everyone believes.”
“Anyone who doesn't know you.”
“Ah, well, yes, isn't that the Oxford way?”
“I wouldn't know.”
I swallowed, without an answer for a moment as I averted my gaze from his and then returned it.
“You know me,” I promised him.
“Hardly so well as you know me,” he said, and I knew he resented the way I could read him like a book. What he didn't know was that so often he could do the same to me—but only when he stopped looking through the lens of merely what he wanted to see in me, my potential rather than my true (as mentioned before: [mostly] human) form.
“We all have our gifts, my friend,” I replied, the same name used for him utterly thoughtless, naturally flowing the second time.
“So we do. Do you have an answer for my question, Charles?”
I wanted to avoid it. I don't know why I wanted to avoid it because I had an answer. Perhaps I just wondered if it was a very good one. I still wonder that. I cleared my throat and decided I had to give him what he requested anyway.
“I saved you because I couldn't help it. There was... something in the air, your strain, your power, and I felt your deadly determination. And I... I couldn't let it die.”
“... You're very kind, Charles,” Erik answered me in turn after a very long pause.
“Don't make fun?” I requested but it was very half-hearted. I could hardly forbid it.
- - -
Distractions, memories, counterarguments, plans, affections.
That evening, March 1959, I did finally coincide with Raven in our apartment.
“... Well, look at you,” she said, and I knew it was derisive as I was sitting on the sofa, contemplating.
“I'm sorry I didn't see you home last night. I was... worried. But you're alright?” I asked her.
“Wow, Charles,” Raven said. Unhappy enough that I looked up at her, watching as her perfect pink cheeks turned to what she holds as their natural blue. She still retained the tied back, wavy hair but it also went a very unusual red. As odd I as I found her preferred aesthetic, for a moment I felt a kind of purely affectionate attraction to the novel ponytail but I met her yellow eyes and sighed.
“What have I done? I trust you. You're a big girl,” I said and I wasn't sure if I was complimenting, excusing, arguing, or some combination of the three.
“You think I can take care of myself,” she said, folding her arms as she took a seat on the edge of one, “but only when you have something better to do. Speaking of—was she any good?”
“And I'm... not telling.”
“Either great or boring, then,” she terminated the line of questioning, fishing up a book with a tattered cover and reading—perhaps pretending to read, but I couldn't tell. I had promised her, after an argument one very dreary afternoon when I was fourteen, that I would never (again) read her mind. When she reminded me, she left out the again part. She left out the fact that there had once been a shared intimacy between us that she didn't fear or dismiss, that instilled in me the deep love that led me to call her 'sister' forever and without hesitation or confusion. She left out what she had taken from me in our brokered agreement—but then, she couldn't take back the bond we had, or so I thought then. Suddenly the book closed with a heavy fwip sound and fell to the coffee table with a more resounding noise than that. “I'm going to bed,” Raven announced.
I gently caught her wrist, thumb brushing along the unusually uneven but still interestingly, unexpectedly smooth surface.
“I wish you'd tell me what's on your mind,” I informed her softly, looking up from where I sat with what I considered an humble plea. Distractions, memories, counterarguments, plans, affections. I would have settled for any of them, those things which make me feel I can touch a person, really touch them. I watched her yellow eyes, seeing them changeable in the light but I could not actually tell in the dim evening room that had not yet been adequately lit if she was actually shifting them. I could see her open her mouth to speak but then she closed it again and I felt (purely of my own volition, not yet-undiscovered thrum) that a moment was passing. A moment that meant something, cemented one path rather than leaving us open to another. I just couldn't define (still can't define) quite what it was. And then my sister tugged her arm away.
“I wish you'd show me what's on yours,” she retorted wearily and marched off to brush her teeth.
I listened. It was quiet. It was familiar and would have been comfortable silence were it not for the sense of isolation I felt. Only a man with her—completely and utterly only a man—only this time not thinking of my now gone-forever lover. My sister, too. Only I was not permitted to touch her mind. I had agreed.
Raven had washed and changed and slipped off to her room and I only glanced up to watch her go, helpless for any terms of peacemaking because I felt helpless to determine the root causes of our conflict. But then she stopped, a floorboard creaking underfoot.
“Charles?” she asked, and in the moment I must have looked away she began to change again because I saw her skin rippling, changing back to her chosen, typical, ordinary and extraordinarily beautiful form.
“Yes?” I asked her patiently, sitting up straight. She glanced at my legs. My legs, and I could have stood, could have crossed to her then. I didn't and she looked down, forehead briefly pressing to the door frame before she straightened and took a deep breath.
“Goodnight,” she said, and it was friendly and calm but she turned her back without looking at me again. When her door closed her hair was still blonde, her skin still pale and even.
- - -
But I haven't told you any of these things. None of these things that come back in a perfectly comprehensible blur. I don't tell you now because I know what is about to happen. I know what must.
“Moira?” I ask and see you turn on your toes before falling to flatten your feet and I wonder if you were a ballerina when you were small.
“Yes, Charles?” you ask me, and I cannot tell if it's formal or simply bright, as you always are—brilliant from the moment we met.
“Would you care to take a break? You've... done more than enough, and I'd... like to have a drink. Talk for a bit.” I swallow thickly as I see the almost flattered expression as you nod and your lovely hair bounces—more lovely, lately, than poor Jackie herself, and I'd tell you that but no woman would ever agree with such an assertion. I might try it in 1970. “... And, afterward,” I say, because I have taken enough from you and will take more still. And there are things I want to tell you, to give you, but I can't. I can't anymore, you see, I have decided that my mutation is the most difficult to define. It is because I can train others, have trained them and seen them soar, seen them thrive already. But I still haven't any idea how to make my own anything less than a terrible, burdensome thing, no matter how bright it might seem at the beginning. It is the most difficult to define because now that I have moved beyond theory and have stumbled (without the use of my legs, and there's a joke about myself that is entirely unkind, in poor taste, but at least I can think about it now and I greatly have you to thank for that) into application, I don't know how ethics can touch or define what I am about to do. What I must do. For you. But mostly, I'm afraid, for us.
“... we can take a walk around the grounds? It's... a lovely day.”