This one’s a short chapter. Honestly, chapter breaks may still shift but finalizing those is pretty low on my list of priorities at this point. You can find the rest of the chapters here.
Two weeks after the three-day telepathic hell fest, Carson petitions the Educational Board, receiving preliminary approval pending completion of the teaching program. He enrolls, tackling the challenge with a determination that has him finishing it in a record six months, a frenetic period during which he’s hindered only occasionally by the remnants of allucinari and somehow always makes time for his efforts to broaden my perspective through human media. The colleagues who oversee his supervised teaching can’t praise him highly enough, nor can the Board find much to criticize in the yearlong outline he provided for his course. The school schedule is modified to include his class, and he’s given a room, supplies, and a generous salary. He’s astounded by how simple the process is.
I’m equally astounded when he tries to pay me rent after receiving his first paycheck on the day before his class begins – many Shelter jobs provide a ‘start up’ check to help employees settle in.
<How much do I owe you?>
<Nothing,> I reply briskly, glancing at him before returning my attention to the advancing and receding line ahead of us where ocean meets sand. Two miles of beach fall within the field of the Resonance Deflector, a fact I’m increasingly grateful for the longer I’m barred from the human world, especially since i don’t have to hop a ship to get there. I’ve started coming here everyday after dinner, Carson frequently joining me.
We walk close to the water, Carson on one side of me and waves on the other. The breeze raises goosebumps on my bare arms. I’m frigid but I love the feel of it on my skin.
<I want to pitch in.>
<I’ve paid off the mortgage. There’s nothing to pitch in for.>
<Electricity? Internet? Food?>
<All of that is covered by the fifteen percent we contribute to the Shelter.>
<But you’re not working and we aren’t contributing, just you.>
<I have money.> The CIC compensated me well for my stint in enemy territory; regardless, my family is wealthy. <Our portion is deducted automatically every month from my account.>
We reach the perimeter of the Shelter. I can’t see the Resonance Deflectors but the feint blue glow of the boundary is obvious. Instead of turning around as we typically do, we stop, facing one another.
<My fifteen percent, then,> he persists stubbornly, crossing his arms.
<No.> I’m not his landlord and I don’t need his money.
I shake my head, turning back toward length of beach protected by Resonance Deflectors. <You’re welcome?> I begin the return walk, Carson lagging behind for long enough that he jogs to catch up with me, overshooting by several paces.
Carson noks when he gets back from classes. I poke the light connection to let him know it’s all right to talk.
<Hey,> he says, <you didn’t have to wait to have dinner.>
I check the time. It’s 1900; we usually eat at 1700, but he told me yesterday he’d be late. <I wanted to. Shall we?>
I put down the tablet where I was reading the news, grab the wrapped gift from my bed, and join him in the kitchen. He’s already set the table. Dinner tonight is cobb salad and tomato soup. I place the gift on the table, to the left of my food, and sit.
<How was your first week of teaching?>
<Good to hear.>
<And exhausting,> he shakes his head ruefully and starts in on his salad.
<I’m sure, but you’ll establish a routine and that will help.>
We eat without speaking.
<How was your day?> Carson asks over our now empty plates.
<Relaxing. I spent most of it reading.> It should have been productive but I’m not having any luck, forced or otherwise, in figuring out what to focus my energy on. <Here,> I say before Carson can comment, picking up the gift. <This is for you.>
Carson takes it, smiling at the brown shopping bag wrapping paper. <I thought you didn’t like the human tradition of wrapping presents?>
<You defended it so ardently, how could I ignore you? I’m not wrapping presents for anyone else, though.>
Carson tears the paper away and examines the wire covered and bound book, tracing the interwoven coils of esla metal with his fingertips. Each string of esla is a different shade of turquoise, looped and winding around countless other pieces. The widths vary but none are greater than that of an unfolded paperclip.
<This is exquisite,> he murmurs. <Thank you. Is it from Lyril?>
<Yes, but you should open it. The pages are what make it special.>
He does as directed. I can read the perplexity in each line of his face as he takes in the silver gleaming sheets of blank paper, each like a pool of still water.
<It is a telepathic journal.>
Carson looks no less confused.
<You can put anything on those pages that you can convey telepathically. Words, still images, animations… However precise or vague your telepathy is, it’ll capture it.>
Carson’s eyes are stunned. He touches a page as if it could shatter. <Thank you, Eyan.> He gives me soaring, not visually, the feeling of it, rushing air and emotion.
<What’s the occasion?>
<Your first week of teaching. Congratulations.>
<Thank you,> he says again. <I wish I had something for you.>
<I didn’t just finish my first week of teaching,> I point out.
<It’s not supposed to be reciprocal. When we give a gift it’s because we really want to, not because we feel obligated by a day or because we’ll be given something in return.>
<I was only sort of raised that way. My friends…> he trails off, but I know.
I pause. <Beach?>
He nods, setting the journal aside.
It’s a five minute walk from my house. We’re stopped three times by people who say hello and inquire into Carson’s first week teaching. Already they feel more comfortable with him than they ever did with me. And why not? He’s friendlier. More considerate too. He knows I want to get to the waterside so he keeps his responses brief.
It’s dark, the beach unlit and devoid of others at this later hour. Is it my imagination or can I hear the waves better? Maybe it’s that there’s no breeze. I take my usual position directly next to the water, Carson falling into place beside me.
<I wanted to ask you something, since this morning, actually,> he tells me.
<What is it?>
<More children attend this school than live in the Shelter.>
<You just noticed that today?>
He sends me a stab of annoyance and I chuckle, imagining his scowl.
<They’re brought here via ship from Shelters all over the world. There are Chosen schools in a lot of Shelters, each with its own strong points. The San Francisco Shelter, for example, is where you’d send an artistically inclined child. Each school offers the same standard classes but San Francisco has twenty times as many art classes. We have a handful so interested students can take them and then, if it calls to them, transfer schools.>
<You’d think they’d have gone over that in the teaching program.>
I nod even though he can’t see it. <We grow up knowing this; it probably didn’t occur to them that you didn’t.>
<What is this school’s specialty?>
Carson laughs. <Oh, yes. My class fits right in.>
<How much do you know about Chosen universities?>
<Just that they exist and where a couple of them are.>
<Well, each is highly specialized. Once you’re admitted to one, you have access to classes at any of them. In that way, for example, a person who is pursuing mechanical engineering would take most of their courses at the New York Shelter, but could grab a ship to the San Fransisco Shelter if they wanted to take some art classes, or to the San Antonio Shelter for medical ones.>
<Wait… Did you go to a Chosen university or to a human one?>
<Both, actually. First to a Chosen one, outside Seattle. I already knew I wanted to join the CIC so I actually went to more of a sub-college that specializes in training people to be CIC agents. The Seattle university is where you go if you want to be an expert in telepathy, telekinesis, or both. The CIC program takes advantage of the advanced mindcraft program but has an entirely separate set of classes too. I took a lot of courses on integrating with humans.>
<What human college did you go to?>
<UCLA. I got a business degree. It was mostly an excuse to live with humans. A lot of Chosen, they… Well, they know about humans, they go shopping at human stores, watch human movies, but they don’t understand them. They wouldn’t scream ‘I was raised by people who grew up on an alien world’ but they do seem sheltered – no pun intended – to humans. If I was going to spy on the DOH, I couldn’t afford that. Classes are great but nothing beats real life.>
We’ve reached the barrier, its glow casting us into shades of blue.
<So I know the light is only visible from this side, and that regular humans wouldn’t really notice us, but would it be harder for me to concentrate on you if I were on the other side?>
<Oh.> He sounds disappointed.
<It would be remarkably unspectacular. I would look just like I look to you now. But if you wore a mindcraft inhibitor, it would be different. You would experience just what regular humans do.>
<It’d be really interesting to see what that’s like. Could we try it sometime? Are inhibitors things you can borrow from…somewhere?>
<The Security Commission has some. They might be used to punish hate crimes against humans, were such a thing to ever happen.>
<To show the perpetrators they would be just like humans without their mindcraft abilities.>
<That’s the idea. I’d say it’s ill conceived but if any of us actually did commit a hate crime then they would be just like the humans.>
<Most humans don’t commit hate crimes, Eyan,> Carson points out in a tone that is at once exasperated and tired.
<Going back to your question, yes. We could try it sometime. As long as there are no regular humans around to see you suddenly come into focus. You stepping past the barrier is something they would notice. And as long as you can convince someone to let you borrow one.>