This short story was previously posted on my old blog. It will be included in my Resolutions collection, and is the starting point for my novel idea.
It was a dull wispy morning, the gantries of Neo London draped with fog. The towering angular structures grew out of the misty depths below and disappeared into the clouds above. Kale scuffed her way along the suspended pathway, fiddling with her burgundy blazer, her short brown hair still wet from her hasty shower. Although the gantries were full of people on their way to work or school, she walked alone, like every morning. Her younger brother and sister would dart off in a different direction once the children had left the apartment building. They didn’t want to be seen with their reject sibling.
Kale stood patiently at the crossing bridge, waiting for the air traffic to divert and the platforms to link. She didn’t want to arrive at school any quicker than she needed to. She noticed a man in a formal grey suit also waiting at the crossing. He stood as far away from the girl as he possibly could, pretending she wasn’t there and yet clearly aware of her presence. As the platforms hovered together and bridged the immeasurable drop with a magnetic click, he strode away as quickly as he could. She could tell he was afraid, repulsed by her emptiness. You didn’t need to be a psychic to work that out.
. . .
“How are you progressing with the task, Kale?”
Miss Warner smiled as she made the enquiry, but that only made her appear more patronising.
“Um… OK, I guess.”
Kale turned her work book around for the youthful dark-haired teacher to see. The young girl was one of the two children seated in the non-psi area at the back of the classroom. The normal children sometimes got spooked by the ‘dead-heads’. The empty psychic space where thoughts and feelings should flow made them nervous, especially the chipped kids, afraid their implants would break if they got too close, sending them back into the mental darkness that was normal life for Kale. She didn’t know why she didn’t just work in a different room. Probably because that would be too much like segregation, and this, well, this was nothing like segregation at all.
“I have identified some mistakes,” said Miss Warner, overly formal. The spoken language that teachers like her had to learn was so rigid, so lifeless and cold. “I have marked them with a circle. Please try to identify and rectify the errors.”
Kale nodded. Miss Warner turned and walked back to the front of the class, soundlessly communicating with the psychic majority. Kale could tell when they were talking psychically. The movement of their eyes, the turn of their heads, lots of little clues they didn’t realise they were giving away.
Sitting a couple of desks away from Kale was Derek Middler, a spotty little boy, the only other non-psi student in the classroom. Despite their shared affliction, she always kept her distance from the scowling youth. He was troubled and volatile, like many non-psi children could be, feeling paranoid and threatened. Not someone you wanted to be associated with.
“They’re talking about us,” Derek muttered.
Heads turned. Kale wished she could sink through the floor with embarrassment.
“You got something to say?” Derek challenged. He jumped up from his seat aggressively. Some of the students shrank back. Others grinned mockingly.
“Don’t laugh at me!”
“Please calm down, Derek,” said Miss Warner evenly.
She’ll be summoning the hall attendants, thought Kale. Derek wasn’t going to calm down.
The wiry boy pushed his desk over, books and pens clattering to the ground. Two hall attendants entered the room. They walked straight up to Derek, faces emotionless, and grabbed the boy, who struggled against them, yelling and screaming. They dragged him out of the room, his rage echoing away down the corridor.
Kale looked down at her book, her face flushed with shame, knowing that all the remaining occupants of the room were scrutinising her. If not with their eyes, then with their minds.
When are you going to snap? they questioned.
When are you going lose it?
. . .
The family sat around the table, plates of hearty home-cooked food in front of each member. Kale ate slowly, chewing each mouthful with a deliberately sluggish pace. They might not try to converse with her if they think her mouth is full. She assumed her mother, father and siblings were talking together; her mother hadn’t awkwardly broken the silence for a few minutes.
“Molly was just saying she might apply for kinetics next semester,” said Kale’s mother out of the blue.
“Oh, OK,” replied Kale, thinking about how fun it would be avoid the objects her younger sister would send flying at her with the power of her mind.
Her mother often did this, tried to act as interpretor; a guilty attempt to make her other child feel included. She only saw pity when she looked into her mother’s eyes, a pity that outweighed love.
“Your father is taking the day off on Friday. We are all going to the holo-pool together.”
“That sounds cool,” the young girl replied unconvincingly. Her mother frowned.
“I think they have adequate heating.”
“No, I mean… forget it.” None of them were used to speaking, they’d lost the natural ability. Kale had learnt from old films and songs, conversing with herself, re-enacting scenes, playing all the characters.
Molly laughed. Kale knew this was aimed at her. Whenever her brother or sister poked fun at her, they always laughed out loud so she would know they were laughing at her. Their father gave them a stern look. Kale ignored them. She had risen to their baiting in the past, responding to their hollow chuckles with white hot anger. Over time she had learnt to block it out.
. . .
“Goodnight Kale.” Her mother turned out the light. She didn’t kiss her daughter at bedtime anymore. She didn’t need to with her other children, they could feel her love in their minds. She had forgotten, trying so hard to stop Kale from feeling different. As the young girl rolled over under the covers she longed for her mother’s touch, those soft arms encircling her in a simple hug. She began to cry, sobbing as quietly as she could. The loneliness didn’t always sting this badly, but some days she couldn’t help but feel crushed under the weight of the isolation, feeling like the only person who hadn’t been told a secret. She reached over to her bedside table and picked up her ear pieces, slotting them in comfortably.
Ray Charles, ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’.
The voices surrounded her, soothing her. She imagined she was part of the ensemble, singing the refrain in perfect harmony.
To be a part of something.
That was all she desired.