Chapter 2

DANNY | Castledon News Media Studio, Hub City

The speaker agreement had certain contingencies, nothing personal, nothing about her background, except her credentials, of course, and no mention of her esper abilities whatsoever. Still, Cecilly Craw was notorious for pissing people off. Pitting Danny against Bill Simkin was evidence of that fact, so she had a pebble in her shoe. It was something she’d learned from a serial killer she’d helped put away. He’d made the study of pain his life’s work, so she figured he knew what he was talking about.

Craw smiled that fake smile of hers. “Dr. Simkin will transmit from Beckworth Colony, so be prepared, if there’s a glitch or delay, we’ll switch over to you, okay?”

A serving-bot flew over with a mug of water, and a mechanical voice told her to keep the logo facing out. Another voice said, “And we’re live in three, two–”

Danny stifled a yawn, rested one elbow casually on the arm of the chair, and focused on keeping her posture open and relaxed, like that media coach had said. Craw introduced Bill Simkin and his backlist. Esper Colony, his first ridiculous suggestion for the quote – esper problem. Guiding Evolution: Selective Genetics and Esper Powers, his second stupid idea. Espers’ Role in Humanity’s Future, which was poorly researched. And his most recent piece of crap, The Deviant Esper: The Decline of Humanity.

Next, she introduced Danny, which had her squirming in her seat. How did people sit through this buta without feeling like they were masturbating in front of the entire galaxy?

“Dr. Greene is an expert in esper powers, with a PhD in esper studies, another in intergalactic cultures, and a third PhD in multi-species forensic psychology—”

“I’m still working on that last one,” she said.

“She uses her expertise to consult with law enforcement agencies all over the galaxy, and has visited an impressive—” She glanced from her notes to Danny, “Seven different planets?”

It was eight, but whatever. Danny stifled another yawn.

“Dr. Greene is also the author of Esper Myths: The Truth About Espers, the surprise hit of the season.”

When Craw finished listing her credentials, she turned to Danny and said, “That’s quite an impressive CV. May I ask how old you are, Dr. Greene?”

She was violating the agreement already? Danny sipped her water and put the mug on the small table by her side, logo out as she’d been instructed.

“Ms. Craw, don’t you know it’s not polite to ask a lady her age?” she said with as charming a smile as she could muster while her toe dug into a pebble.

Craw faked a laugh and asked Bill to explain the premise of his new book.

Danny had read it. In chapter three, Bill suggested breeding programs. In chapter seven, he’d suggested shipping all espers off to their own colony. In chapter eleven, extermination was his solution for the high percentage of espers showing an excess of, quote, deviant behaviors.

One person’s deviance is another person’s fun, Bill, Danny thought.

Craw asked him about DST babies. His hologram froze on the answer and vanished, so Danny answered for him. “Sixty-four percent of infants born addicted never survive the detox. Of those who do, the majority are on the low end of the FDS spectrum.”

“FDS, being…”

“Fetal Diastrastadone Syndrome—”

Simkin’s hologram reappeared. “Dust babies are a growing concern with a wide array of issues. Physiological, psychological, neurological. Heart attacks are common, ticks. Seizures, gastrointestinal dis—” He froze again.

“It can range from not so bad to truly awful,” Danny said, and stifled another yawn.

“But espers, don’t share all these problems?” Craw asked.

“No. It’s different for espers. The mutation increases neuropathways, alters senses. We haven’t even begun to uncover the breadth of para-psychological abilities that manifest—”

“And causes much higher rates of deviance and psycho-pathology. Sociopaths are far more common in the esper population.”

“That’s not true. 1% of all humans exhibit sociopathic behavior.”

“And 2% of all espers.”

“That study didn’t have a high enough sample for any kind of statistical significance, Bill.”

“Are espers violent, Dr. Greene?” Craw asked.

“Often,” Simkin said.

“Rarely,” Danny said at the same time.

Craw turned toward the hologram of Simkin again. “Professor, in your most recent book, you claim espers are the future of humanity. Is our evolution heading down a violent path?”

Simkin shrugged and nodded.

Danny shook her head.

“You disagree, Dr. Greene?”

“Humans have always been violent, Ms. Craw, and esper abilities aren’t caused by natural selection. It’s DNA re-sequencing caused by a processed Lyrendan weed and the most addictive drug we’ve ever seen.” Her voice raised a pitch. Danny pressed on the pebble and stifled another yawn. She really, really needed some sleep.

“Can you tell us some of the esper powers you’ve seen in your work?”

Oh, for the love of life. “They’re not powers, Ms. Craw. It’s not magic.”

Bill interrupted. “Telepaths, telekinetics, eidetic memories are fairly common. precognitive abilities–”

“We’ve never encountered a valid precog,” Danny interrupted.

“Haven’t we?”

Haven’t we? So, Bill Simkin had sent that file? Danny needed to have a talk with him off-camera.

“There’s such a variety of unusual powers, we—”

“Bill, they aren’t powers. It’s language like that which perpetuates the myth that espers are something other than human.”

Esper Powers and Pathologies, it’ll be the title of my next book!”

“You know damn well the vast majority of espers are good people living relatively normal lives,” Danny said.

“The vast majority hide their powers from the rest of us.”

“Because of prejudice like yours, Bill, and they aren’t powers.”

Gifts then,” Craw said. “Let’s call them gifts. Is there any way to tell if someone has esper gifts, Dr. Simkin?”

“They sure as hell aren’t gifts!” Danny shouted.

“Unfortunately, not yet,” Simkin ignored her outburst. “Your next-door neighbor, your colleague, even your own brother could be an esper without you even knowing—”

“Disturbing thought,” Craw replied.

Simkin nodded. “Which is why we need to track them, monitor them, maybe even tag them.”

“Yeah, why not tattoo our faces like Lyrendans do!”

Oh, farqinda.

Danny stopped talking and closed her eyes for a second. The pebble in her shoe was obviously not working.

Craw leered at her like a qwabe who’d just caught a four-winged fish. “You admit you’re an esper, Dr. Greene?”

Danny pressed her toe down hard, took a deep breath, let it out. Pianissimo. “It’s not a crime,” she mumbled.

“Care to share your gifts with us?”

“Esper abilities are not gifts, Ms. Craw, they’re a curse.”

“You’re an eidetiker, am I correct?” Craw said.

Danny nodded. In for neimarro in for seinarro, I suppose.

“So, you remember everything you see and hear?”

“No. It doesn’t work like that; it requires a lot of focus and—”

“Which has allowed you unheard-of levels of academic success… Three PhDs at your age, I doubt anyone in our audience can see a flip side to that.”

“Two. I’m ABD on that last one.”

Where was she going with this?

She laughed. “Two. But you have other gifts… used in your consultant work with law enforcement, am I right?”

“They are not gifts!”

“Would you care to share with our audience what you can do—”

Oh nonononono. Craw had gone too far. The entire galaxy did not get to know about that. She dug her toe down hard. Heard her therapist, Sam’s voice in her head, saying, breathe, Danny, stay grounded. She took another deep breath. Pianissimo. “No,” she said again, her voice level.

Cecily Craw leaned forward in her seat. “But you have several gifts, am I right, Dr. Greene?”

Danny unclipped her microphone and stood. “We’re done here,” she said.

By the expression on Craw’s face, she had a feeling she was gonna regret that.