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A Wild Talent

The number of active telepaths in our society is much, much greater than the average person suspects. I'm not talking about empaths, who can sense, usually vaguely, what others are feeling, I mean full-blown telepaths, who can hear what people around them are thinking and, in some cases, see, feel, touch and even taste what is going on in another person's head.
   Of course, the existence of effective numbers of telepaths is well known to the nation's power-holders. I don't mean the government and its cronies. I mean the people who really have the power to pick directions and expect everyone else to take them. None of these people is a telepath, as far as I know, and this simple fact explains why they go to so much trouble to jam our wild talent.
   As far as my own case is concerned, I am rated P13. In fact, my talent may be even stronger but the scale goes up only to 13. No one thought that they would ever get past 11 when the test was devised - one to ten with one extra level tacked on for good luck.
   The transition from 11 to 12 is pretty much scientifically accurate but if you test 13, your true rating may be anywhere between 13 and infinity. I suspect that my own true level is closer to infinity than 13 but that fact is irrelevant here. They have extremely effective dampening fields active in the area where I am forced to live and work. Nobody can be more than about a P3 around here.
   'Which means what to a really effective telepath?' I hear you ask.
   Try walking around a dense, overgrown wood in dark sunglasses on a pitch-black night. That will give you some idea of what it's like.

The writer had adjusted back to 'normal life' by resetting his watch to 'true time' after his Friday night/Saturday morning shift and not going to bed until ten-thirty on Saturday night. He felt well rested as he confronted his messages pop-up on Monday morning, not particularly motivated and only slightly disorientated.
   "Can I book you for lunch?" Sally Lee asked from her adjacent work station. "It was a real struggle, getting through last week without having a good natter with you."
   "Nice to be appreciated. Yes, we've not had any spicy pasta for ages. Unless you've gone off it?"
   "No, that's a good idea. By the way, how are you getting on with that girl who used to be a waitress there?"
   "Having a job as a working actress in a half-decent play seems to knock your social life on the head. That's what she told me, anyway."
   "So you're no longer an item?"
   "I don't think we ever got that far in the first place. How are you getting on with Chazzer?"
   Sally Lee pulled a face. "That's another knock on the head. He rang me last Thursday to say his firm's sending him to Seattle for the next six months. So he's running round organizing that."
   "Well, I suppose it's got to be true," the writer decided. "If you're in F-Star condition after all the dieting and torture. And Chazzer does have a history of being sent to distant places with almost no notice. How are you getting on with your feng shoowy, by the way? Still doing it?"
   Sally nodded wearily. "They're not going to letting me deny my genetic heritage."
   "The feck is this supposed to be telling me?"
   The writer's eyes turned automatically to the source of the close, but not too close, cry of anguish from the Feck-Meister.
   "Don't tell me, you'd almost forgotten he exists," Sally laughed.
   "I was having a bloody good try," the writer admitted.
   "Look out, he's coming over here." Sally gave her full attention to her monitor screen and ignored Pierson Day.
   "Well rested after our week off?" he asked the writer.
   "Off in the sense of being elsewhere but not in the sense of not working," the writer pointed out. "And I'm still in time-shift stress."
   "I bet you suffer from jet-lag, too," Day mocked. "Sort yourself out this morning then you can do an afternoon in the archive. And keep your eyes open, okay?"
   The writer shrugged. "Sounds okay to me." He put on his smile of relentless confidence.
   Pierson Day emitted a mocking laugh and continued his first-thing-Monday harrasment tour of the newsroom. The writer returned to his messages with even less enthusiasm than before, knowing that they were the first step on the road to getting himself sorted out.

At times, I wish that they had the dampening field turned all the way up. The constant strain of blocking out the mumbles in my head can leave me feeling positively drained at the end of the formal working day. Because that's all that I can pick up in the dampening field - distorted mumbles instead of clear voices.
   If I can be allowed to keep my full telepathic powers, blocking is no problem. Being restricted makes everything so much more difficult. It's like moving around in reduced gravity. We know where we are in a full 1 g and in zero g. But in a fraction of 1 g, we either push too hard or not hard enough. We expend the wrong amount of energy for the task and we tire ourselves out that much more quickly.

You Have 1 New Messages

The writer took his £2 coin from his pocket and flipped it into the air. It seemed to come down 'heads' an unstatistical number of times, the writer told himself, as he turned it over to make sure that there was a 'tail' on the other side. He returned the coin to stock and clicked on the OK button.

Are you J. Birch, P. Howell or V. Winshaw?
Or #re U a#l #f #he abov#?
J.B. Rules OK!
Death to everyone else!

The writer frowned at the message. Knowing Jeff Boon, it had significance, even if what it was trying to say wasn't immediately obvious to the recipient. Seeking enlightenment, the writer clicked on the Reply button and sent, 'The Fe#k is this supposed to be saying?'
   When he had despatched the message, the writer glanced in the direction of Jeff Boon's work station. To his disgust, he saw the sports correspondent putting on his jacket. After a check of his pockets for car keys and his wallet, Boon waved a cheery good-bye to one of his neighbours and headed for the exit.
   Clearly, Jeff Boon had a sports assignment out in the real world. Enlightenment would have to wait.

You Have 1 New Messages

The writer frowned at the pop-up box. The whole problem of the messaging system was that it gave too much information, in the sense that too many people were putting too much unwanted data into circulation, and yet it offered too little initially, when people needed to decide whether to open or postpone a message.
   What the system needed, the writer decided, was a switch-on option to display the title of the message and the identity of its source as an alternative to seeing just the number of messages. That way, people could concentrate on the really important correspondents and ignore the rest until they felt that they really had to 'do their messages'.
   Making a deal with himself, the writer clicked on the OK button. If it was a sensible message from a friendly source, or work related even if the source wasn't necessarily friendly as such, he would continue to take new messages. But if it was a junk message ...

I need to have a literary discussion. What are you doing for lunch?
Archive Jackie

The writer replied, 'Booked up for lunch but I'm in the archive this afternoon, orders from the Fec#. So I'll see you then.' A familiar brand of perfume drifted over to him as the writer clicked the Send button. The writer braced himself for a confrontation but there was none.
   "Sally, I need you again for a couple of hours this afternoon," Jill Day told the writer's neighbour.
   "Does Pierson know yet?" Sally asked.
   "Yes, he's had a message. Two-thirty, my office?"
   "Yes, fine."
   The writer began to wonder whether he should demand a copyright fee when Sally gave Jill Day a creditable imitation of his smile of limitless confidence.
   "And Marin," Jill Day added to the writer, "I need you to fill in for Sally in the archive this afternoon."
   "Right! No problemo!" The writer gave her the confident smile at the correct full-personality-voltage.
   "No problemo as you've already been condemned to the archive by the Feck?" Sally said with a laugh when Jill Day had moved on to organize someone else.
   "It does tend to dent someone's aura of authority when they're the second person to give you a job," said the writer.
   "And isn't 'no problemo' totally illiterate?"
   "But it's quicker than saying 'no esta problema'."
   "But not much."
    "By the way, do these names mean anything to you?" The artist abandoned a pointless argument and recovered Jeff Boon's last message.
   "Not really," Sally said after studying his monitor screen.
   "Oh, well. I suppose all shall be revealed in the fullness of time." The writer returned to his work until it was time to dash off for a fairly posh lunch in pleasant company. He toyed with the idea of sending a message to the network supervisor, asking for more primary information. Then he decided not to bother.
   The pop-up box was just an 'alerting mechanism', he recalled from a briefing document on the messaging system. It wasn't supposed to be anything more complicated. So the IT mob would have 99 reasons for not doing anything about his idea, the first 98 being cost-related.

At times, they switch off the dampening field for routine maintenance procedures. Then, my telepathic talent blossoms to its full potential. Paradoxically, I then switch it off myself and enjoy the 'silence without strain'.
    When I do perform readings in one of these brief respites, I find that the thoughts of some of my fellow inmates are less easy to fathom than those of others. Pierson Day, for instance, appears not to have a thought process that works like everybody else's. He seems to have a constant noise going on in what passes for his mind and that noise masks everything else. It's a throbbing mutter - going 'feck, feck, feck'. On and on.
   Others think in fragments. Irritating bits. Try to focus on them and you get bounced from one thought to the next and you are quite unable to discern any coherent patterns of information. One of the most annoying

You Now Have 18 Unread Messages

The writer had begun a new working day by zapping a pop-up box, which had offered him 17 new messages. Someone else had just added to his burden. Feeling that he was under observation, his lifted his head and flicked his eyes around the newsroom. Jeff Boon had turned his ergonomic swivelling chair toward the writer and he was glaring at him, daring him to zap the message box.
   Doing what was expected of him, the writer clicked on the OK button.

People wh#'ve be#n writi#g do#gy l#tt#rs to the p#aper. You'#e deny#ing yur the sorce?
J.B. Rules OK!
Death to everyone else!
The Fe#k is this supposed to be saying?
M. Petronas
Obliteration to the masses!
Are you J. Birch, P. Howell or V. Winshaw?
Or #re U a#l #f #he abov#?
J.B. Rules OK!
Death to everyone else!

Reading the 3 messages in reverse order left the writer a little wiser, but not much. He reached for his phone and hit a speed-dial button. A verbal confrontation was needed.
   "Someone reading his messages now?" Jeff Boon's voice asked.
   "While there may be things going on," the writer told him, "not everyone in the building is party to them. And we're not all mind-readers."
   "Are you denying you've been writing letters to the paper in support of the Feck's campaign to discredit the mayor?" the sports correspondent demanded
   "Having been undead for a week, I have no knowledge of that of which you speak."
   "You do know that the Feck's slaves have been digging stuff out of the archive to rubbish the mayor's ancestors?"
   "Guilty, m'lud."
   "But you're denying playing any part in the correspondence about it on the letters page?"
   "I gave up wasting time on the letters page years ago."
   "In that case, check out last week's issues and get back to me. Before the end of the millennium, preferably. Cheers, Marin."
   The writer replaced his receiver with a mild frown on his face.
   "What are you scowling about?" a familiar voice demanded on his right.
   "The general state of the universe." The writer supplied a suitably non-committal reply. "Was there something?"
   "That stuff you trawled out of the archive yesterday," the Feck-Monster replied. "It's a bit thin. See what you can work up out of your alternative sources."
   "As an official activity on work-time?"
   "Of course." Pierson Day looked offended by a suggestion that he might be abusing the newspaper's resources.
   "Right, then." The writer put on his expression of boundless confidence.

Down in the archive, the writer settled at a work station which was out of the direct line of sight of anyone on the stairs.
   "I wasn't expecting to see you down here today, Marin." Jackie Sydenham directed a puzzled look in his direction. She was having a big hair day, although not quite as big as usual because she had been to her hairdresser for a trim.
   "I'm doing a job but I don't want anyone looking over my shoulder while I'm doing it," the writer explained.
   "What, are you hacking into MI-Five's files?" laughed Jackie.
   "Not quite. But there are sources you don't want other people to know about. Or you don't want people to know how to get to them."
   "We're talking job security?" Jackie asked. "Sack me and no one else knows how to get this stuff? Until someone else finds out, of course."
   "Got it in one. Aha!" The writer began to collect documents from a website.
   "What are you doing at lunchtime?"
   "I might be having lunch with someone called Jackie."
   "Good. I wanted to show you how some of the ideas from yesterday are working out. I want to try out a couple of things on you to see if you think they're credible."
   "Warning, serious writer in the building," laughed the writer. "She's worrying about people believing her stuff."

While he was out of sight, the writer took the opportunity to consult the previous week's back-issues. The Sentinel & Advertiser was well known for the lively debate to be found on its letters page - or such was the message of a recent advertising campaign. The writer knew that ‘lively' is a good-guy media term. Armed with the names in Jeff Boon's message, the writer copied and pasted material into a composite file.
   His next step was to do perform a quick trawl for biographical information. He wanted to be sure that the correspondents were all real people and he wanted to have some idea of which axes they might be grinding.
   His conclusion was that none of the 3 identified by Jeff Boon had any obvious connection with the Feck-Monster. They had no school, college, work history or residential area in common. It was possible that Pierson Day had met all of them socially, however. The fact that two of them were female and of about the Feck-Meister's age could have been significant.
   What was abundantly clear from the letters was that they had all been sent in by enemies of the Corrigan family in general and Dark Corrigan, the current mayor, in particular. The writer concluded that the Feck-Monster had been using the Sentinel & Advertiser as a recruiting agent for his private war with the mayor's sister, Verne Blish-Corrigan. He had flaunted the scandals of the Corrigans' ancestors and more or less invited other enemies to contribute to the letters page.
   The writer was a little surprised at the degree of hostility permitted by the letters editor, but the blame for any excesses could be laid at the mayor's own door. Dark Corrigan had a long history of trying to manipulate and blackmail the local news media into giving him favourable treatment and broadcasting his undiluted spin on local events. A little pay-back was an essential tactic in the process of establishing limits.

Of course, the reason for the dampening field is abundantly clear to anyone who cares to look a little closely at what is going on around here. There are so many deep, dark plots and so much petty tyranny and back-stabbing that everyone with the slightest bit of authority lives in dread of being found out.
   Imagine the havoc that an uninhibited telepath could wreak if he or she were permitted to scan the senior editorial staff. Everyone knows that they are shallow creatures who run on petty jealousy and strong drink. But imagine their humiliation if a telepath were able to testify in minute detail about their conspiracies.
   Because secrecy and concealment are their only hopes. In the deep, dark recesses of what passes for

You Have 1 New Messages

The writer stared in indignation at the pop-up box. As far as he could remember, he had not clicked on the 'enable messages' option on logging on at the work station in the archive. His treacherous £2 coin came up 'heads' again.

Are you working somewhere or taking another holiday?
Pierson Day

The writer clicked on the Reply button and wrote 'The Feck!!!!' Then he zapped the box without sending the message. Then he clicked on the Reply button again and sent 'Yes'.
   A stupid question, he felt, deserves an ambiguous answer.

The writer was just putting the finishing touches to a message to Pierson Day containing his material from his alternative sources when the pop-up box appeared again.

You Have 1 New Messages

The writer considered tossing his £2 coin but he just knew that the source of the message was the Feck-Monster. And so he left the coin in his pocket and clicked on the OK button.

Yes, what?
Pierson Day
M. Petronas
Obliteration to the masses!
Are you working somewhere or taking another holiday?
Pierson Day

The writer chose to send 'Yes, sir' as his reply - but not until after he had sent off the message containing the information required by the Feck-Monster. Playing silly buggers was all right within reasonable limits, such as providing an illustration of how having to deal with pointless messages can disrupt the flow of proper work.

What the management of this organization needs to do is make its mind up about electronic aids. The resources wasted on the dampening field could be used more profitably to fund a system for providing location information on everyone in the building.
   In addition to the obvious benefits in the event of a fire or another disaster, it might prevent the more paranoid managers from wasting everyone's time with inquiries about where they are and what they are doing.
   And if they were to switch the dampening field off, a P13 like myself might even be able to punch a message though the mindless 'feck, feck, feck' throbbing in the head of a certain person to provide him with useful information.
   What the non-telepathic members of the human race really need to do is come to terms with their inadequacies and move on. Perhaps then, P13s like myself will receive a measure of the respect and appreciation to which we are entitled.

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