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The Only Winning Move

After considering the task to which I had been set, I did pretty much what I expected to do when Joshua first told me about it: nothing.

At first, I sat in my extremely comfortable chair in front of my two-story-high set of screens, with my keyboards and virtual mousing controls and voice controls and stared at the enormous live satellite map of Africa. I eyed it thoroughly; I expected it to bite me, at least metaphorically. Then I opened up Wikipedia and other parts of the Internet and started reading, because I had no idea what countries were extant in Africa right then. From there, I jumped to the surprisingly healthy African blogosphere (surprising because the American blogosphere was a censored wasteland). I got hints that the non-English and non-French areas were even less restricted.

There are, for your information, sixty-some-odd countries in Africa. The actual number is in constant flux because there are about half a dozen para individuals staking territorial claims to regions, usually sub-regions of countries, at any given time. Some of these are flat-out supervillains -- well-heeled First-World-backed almost-locals with some flavor of superpower, major gizmo arsenal, or mystical army. A few are well-meaning people trying to improve the quality of life in some specific area. Then, in addition to the countries on the map, there are also the so-called "lost" civilizations that pepper the continent, with some confirmed and in communication with the UN and local governments, and others that withdrew from detection after first contact.

Then there are the UN Emergency Exclusion Zones, of which some have their own governments, completely separate from the countries in which they occur. For instance, the area around what the Great White Victorian Explorers called a "gate to hell" (a gate to another world) that periodically emitted "demons" (people from that other world), the region around which was populated by "demon worshippers" (people who'd had diplomatic relations and trade with the otherworlders for thousands of years). Or the empty land that was barricaded off by NATO troops because, forty years after The Atomaster blew himself up there in a fight with one of the South African para teams (killing himself and the para team and a dozen villages of innocent bystanders, the area was still hotter than the site of the crash of Doc McGee's airship in Montana.

Of course, while I was engaged in all this research, I was looking up the shit that was going on in the US and being horrified. Mark West's cronies had clamped down on the press so there was very little mainstream coverage of, say, the water riots in LA and San Diego, or the large-scale extremist violence in suburban areas, or the enormous suicide clusters blooming like bloodstains across the countryside. Twitter was mostly a wasteland, but it did have tidbits. What West's people didn't know about particularly were the locked-down sites where a small group of mental health para professionals interacted. I didn't use the onboard computers to view those sites, of course, but contacted the psi-activated robot waldo in my old home and had her bring up the screens on my home computer.

I researched for a week before Sara West showed up in my "office."

I felt her sticky-sweet oozing presence as she approached. I braced myself (imagine: slick smooth stainless steel outer shell coated in oil) and said, "Come in," when she knocked.

She hung in the doorway, like she did before. Floribunda wasn't in the office that day (sometimes the ship just freaked her out too much for her to emerge from whatever hiding place she'd crammed herself into), so I was able to turn my full attention to the uncontrolled empath in my space.

I made her wait a full minute, as I closed windows on my displays, leaving only the massive image of Africa, clouds drifting over the equatorial region. Then I turned my chair toward her.

"Yes?" I said.

Dame Shirley's voice faded out on the speakers (at least they gave me decent speakers) and was replaced by Tracy Chapman.

"Last night I heard the screaming/Loud voices behind the wall..."

The dark circles under Sara West's eyes were deeper than before, her pale skin more transparent. She smiled wanly at me. "I just wanted to look in on you and see how you were settling in."

I gave her a tight smile. "Just fine, thank you." Internally, I cursed my mother for instilling indomitable politeness in me. I didn't want to thank this woman. I was smoldering, thinking about the children who were hanging themselves in Chicago, and the immigrant women who were poisoning themselves in Arizona, and the young gay men who were drowning themselves in Virginia.

"I…" she began, and then her gaze travelled over my screen, apparently taking in the custom markings I'd put in to denote the various conflicts that were actually being covered in the press. "What's that?"

"Places where people are killing each other," I said, nastily pleased by her flinch.

"Always come late/If they come at all," Tracy sang.

"Mr. West is wondering," she said, averting her eyes down and to the right, "why you're not using your power more."

"And Mark West sends you to ask his questions for him?" I said.

Tracy added, "They say they can't interfere/With domestic affairs…"

She shook her head and glanced at my face furtively, then looked away. "I heard him talking to one of them about it. I think he's trying to get you locked up again."

"And you're hoping I'll be grateful to you for this information?" I said. I wasn't really surprised that the aliens were monitoring my telepathic output. Joshua had intimated as much, if I read between the lines.

Tears overflowed and she said, "Why are you so mean? I'm just trying to be nice in this… this horrible place."

I set my jaw. "I don't care how 'nice' you're being to me, you're killing people down on the ground. You and your husband are mass murderers."

"I'm trying to stop the killing!" she wailed, her saccharine emotional spray turning cold and jagged and sandpapery. "I just want to go back to raising my kids and cooking for my husband and being normal, but while I've got this god-given power, he says… I know I've got to try to make the world better!"

Kids, of course, that was one reason she looked so fried. But the pictures of the kids who'd died just in the last month in the drug violence that was erupting in pretty much every city in the US wrote over the images of the children floating on the edge of her consciousness.

"Then a silence that chilled my soul…" Tracy crooned.

"You've tried, and you've failed, and the more you try, the more people you kill," I said as brutally as I could. It's hard when another person is facing you in tears, especially when they're an uncontrolled Class 9 or 10 empath projecting all their mess all over you. "Unless you believe in a very different god than I do, then you need to stop, right here, right now, or have more deaths on you."

Tracy added, "And the policeman said/I'm here to keep the peace…"

She covered her face with her hands and said, muffled, "I can't believe what you're saying. I can't believe you. You don't understand!" And, finally, she fled and the door slid shut behind her.

In the fresh silence, Tracy's song finished mournfully and I took a few deep breaths.

Then I turned back to the screen and started considering how to make it look like I was using my power just enough to keep my job.

Date: 2013-09-01 09:13 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
"I eyed it thoroughly, as if I expected it to bite me, which I did." She... bites herself? That's a little odd.

Date: 2013-09-01 09:24 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Trying to reason with someone zealous enough to do all this, even as a pawn, is way less effective than making whatever sacrifice is required to get into her head and forcibly change her mind or stop her. Given the trend in who has powers on this planet, I can't imagine the aliens would find another empath/telepath who'd be as suitable as Sara. It'd be a major setback, if not a solution, and it'd buy the resistance enough breathing room to do something more final.

Still, I guess Renata's not really used to having a "hero" mentality. She's used to fixing problems slowly and constructively. It might work here, but people are suffering and dying in the meantime.


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