Cass Phan squeezed her brother’s hand, trying to get him to focus again. She could feel it when his attention dwindled. “You okay?”
Mavic blinked a few times, looked at her, brown eyes locked on brown eyes, then he nodded. “Yeah, sorry. Background noise. You know how it is.”
“Nope. Not really.”
“Yeah.” He ran a hand through his dark hair in frustration. Maybe it wasn’t a good day after all.
Cass glanced at him sideways, worried. She always worried about him, even though given their age difference it should have been the other way around. Mavic was almost three years older than her but didn’t look it. In fact the siblings looked so much alike people often thought they were twins, the only way of telling them apart being the hair, because while Cass kept hers short and sleek, Mavic had grown his out so long it covered his shoulders. He usually wore it in a bun.
Maybe she shouldn’t have believed him when he had told her he was alright to go out. Then again, he had to train somewhere, he couldn’t spend the rest of his days in his room. Cass silently cursed the Academy. You’d think they would at least have been able to teach him that. Ever since the Ganham Act passed last year and Mavic had finally been allowed to come home again he had been doing terribly, somehow worse than before. It might have had something to do with the partial mindwipe he had agreed to, to speed up the mental healing process. Which wouldn’t have even been necessary if they had just left him alone in the first place. Damn that teep police!
Cass tried to close those thoughts away and dragged her brother further along the path of the park, but she knew it was too late by the semi-amused look he gave her and the tiny laugh she heard at the back of her head. “I can hear you, you know.”
Mavic had been trying his hardest to concentrate on his surroundings when his sister’s worry and anger crossed his mind, coming off her in waves. He had been trying to focus on the park, and to ignore the people in it. It was a perfect night for a walk in the park, the temperature was still warm, still sweater weather. The fluorescent trees were in full bloom, not yet programmed for autumn when their tiny neon leaves would blow in the wind and vanish before they hit the ground. At least the trees didn’t have thoughts; people were full of them and he found it hard to block them out. The teachings of the Academy – which had been more of a juvenile prison, he thought so more and more – had apparently done close to nothing to teach him how to control it, his talent was too strong; Mavic ranked very high on the telepathic scale. That was also one of the reasons he could never fully block out Cass. She was always there, his entire family in fact, he could always in a way feel them. It had never seemed strange to him. He thought it made him more perceptive of their needs, easier to help them when they needed help, comfort them when they needed to be comforted. He remembered, when he was very young, asking mother to make Cass some hot cocoa because she was having a bad day at preschool, a whole ten minutes before Cass walked in the door.
It had felt natural to him, but of course that was before the Academy. Mother had always warned him not to show his talent.
“You want to go back?”, Cass asked.
“Have to get used to it, don’t I?” He gave her a wry little smile and reached out to her. Cass felt his thoughts brush over her own, his mind as distinct and familiar as his face, comforting her, telling her he was alright. She often wished she was more talented in this just so she could do that, too.
Cass tugged on his arm. “Come on, then.”
“No, that way. There’s more people, I wanna try something.”
There really were more people here, walking, running, cluttering the benches along the way. Mavic walked on with slow, careful steps, building up the mental wall brick by tiny brick. The noise of millions of thoughts grew faint, still audible but not overwhelming. Finally some progress. He looked around, happy to be able to look at people without automatically reading them. A boy ran past him on a scooter and Mavic could feel nothing but the draft. A teenage girl was chatting away into a wrist phone and he could hear nothing but her voice. Two old women were sitting on a bench, one of them reading on a tablet, her huge white afro in stark contrast with her shiny dark skin, the other one, pale and frail looking, was knitting, an old-fashioned pastime that, like many others, had been making it’s comeback this year after stitching had gone out of style.
They were about to pass the two women when Mavic noticed the red synthetic wool in the knitter’s hands, slowly taking on the distinct shape of a pullover, and the wall shattered into pieces. Mavic could hear his sister cry his name, many times, but she seemed so far away, lost in the sea of voices. He could feel tears on his face, looking at the red pullover.
A red pullover. He had worn a red pullover once, no, many times. On the few outings that had been permitted at the Academy the students had been made to wear red pullovers, clasps over the sleeves that made it impossible to take them off outside the dorm rooms, their identification code and that of the school program stitched into the fabric. Even a superficial security scan was able to detect it. It was a precaution, just in case someone got it in their mind to try and make a run for it. Mavic had never tried to run, not even when they came into his school for a routine check for telepathy, he had just done what his mother had said and imagined building a wall, not to let them find him, but it was too late, they had come by their apartment anyway, three of them, one teep and two pieces of hired muscle, and all Mavic could do was to make sure they only took him, took him away before they found out about Cass and their mom, they were low-level but in the days of the rogue teep panic everyone could be carted off, so he just started sending, masking their talent with his own…. He shouldn’t even be remembering this. Something about the mindwipe had gone very, very wrong. His memories started to mix with the thoughts around him and Mavic felt as if he was drowning.
“Now listen to me, young man,” a voice, strong, firm, came into his mind. “You will concentrate on me. Follow me. Imagine me as a thread and follow. Block everything else. There are thick concrete walls all around us, there is only you and me.”
The clamour around him ceased gradually, and Mavic found his way back to the here and now. He was leaning against Cass, thinking he must be quite a sight, a grown man crying in front of two old ladies.
“That’s better,” the firm voice sounded again and he realised it came from the knitting woman, her electric needles now laying forgotten on her lap. The woman with the afro was giving him a concerned look. He could hear her now, too.
“You’re quite a strong one, aren’t you? I see they did a mindwipe on you, must’ve done a rotten job.”
“Mavic? Mavic, you okay?”, Cass asked. “They’re telepaths too, aren’t they? Can you even hear me?”
The knitting woman took a look at her wife when the boy in front of her didn’t answer. After a short conversation she shrugged. “Your brother is not doing well,” she said to Cass. “What happened to him?”
“Academy,” the girl said curtly, still holding the young man upright.
The knitter raised her eyebrows in honest concern. The poor boy. She had heard about the things that happened there before the Ganham Act shut the whole organisation down, had almost ended up at a similar place herself. “I see.” She reached out to Mavic again, his young mind flitting here and there, like a firework going off inside his brain. “Can you still hear us?”
“Yes,” he said, wiping tears from his eyes.
“Can you hear anyone else?”
“Very good. Hello. I’m Doro, this is my wife Karyn. And you are?”
“Nice to meet you, young man,” Doro said, looking at him with a sort of grandmotherly sympathy. “Now listen, what really helps is daily meditation. You need to work on the wall until it becomes more of a screen door you can open and close at will.”
“You’re telepaths, too.”
“Ain’t you a smart one,” the woman with the tablet, Karyn, said. “I told you, honey, they ain’t teaching them nothing useful at this damned place, might have shut it down sooner.”
“I know, dear, but that’s hardly his fault, now is it?”, Doro said, patting her wife’s hand.
“You’ve been slacking with your exercise,” Karyn continued, addressing Mavic. “You need four hours every day until you get better.”
Mavic could think of nothing to say, still recovering from the onslaught of thought turmoil from earlier, so he just said, “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it.”
“An’ stop feelin’ sorry for yourself,” Karyn added, her arms now crossed. “When we were your age they just locked people like us up in asylums, told ’em they were crazy, ain’t no such thing as telepathy.”
“Yeah? How d’you get out?”, Mavic asked, mental voice dripping with sarcasm.
Karyn was grinning now and Doro could tell the boys was rising in her wife’s opinion. “Not so stupid after all, the boy.”
“Now get yourself home and have some rest. You feel like you had enough excitement for the day,” Doro said.
“An’ work on yourself,” Karyn added.
Mavic started to limp away in the direction they had come from, Cass walking next to him, puzzled to no end; she hadn’t heard anything. “What is it? What did they say?”
“Told me to meditate,” Mavic said, grinning slightly. All he wanted to do right now was to go home and lie down for an hour or ten.
“Is this telepath stuff I don’t understand?”
He stroked her hand gently. “Who knows. You might.”
On the bench Doro and Karyn continued their talk, their lips never moving, as their eyes followed the two young people. Karyn eventually went back to the article on her tablet. “I should write a book, I should.”
“On what, dear? ‘How to be a better telepath in twelve easy steps’?”
“That’s a good title, I need to write that down somewhere. Told you they ain’t learning anything at these places, waste of time the whole thing, waste of tax money, I always said that.”
“You did, dear,” Doro said non-committally, as always when her wife dived into the topic of politics. She took up her electric needles again. “Do you think he’ll be alright?”
Karyn shrugged. “He’ll get through it, we all did,” she said shortly.
“Of course, dear.”
Sooo? How did I do? Is it really obvious that English isn’t my first language because I think it is.