Pay the Piper – Chapter Seven

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I got back to the hotel in a car Vinny had provided. Given Archon’s line of work they were very familiar with the needs of psychometrics and had a couple of sterilized cars on hand to transport their contractors. Given my history of working with them Vinny had been willing to cut one loose for me after our meeting. It was gracious of him but did nothing to improve my mood.

There are people in the world we call Gaps, people who are so in touch with abstract ideas that we can’t get clear reads on them. We can still find traces of them, mind you, it’s just harder to make sense of them. Principles are one of those abstracts, religion is another, quantum physics is a third. That’s the complete list. You’d probably think a psychometric with a similar understanding might be able to get through to them and you might even be right. The problem is, psychometrics who start to develop those understandings just… go somewhere. Their physical body stays here and looks like it’s alive. But the part of their mind that makes them who they are is just gone. That’s why we call them Gaps.

Most psychometrics are agnostics. We bend in the wind pretty often and we don’t do higher level math.

Vinny, on the other hand, is a Gap. There’s a fundamental need in him for principles to base his understanding of the world on and as I’ve said his, as nearly as I can tell, is balance. You can trust him to act on that principle 100% of the time. I’m just never sure how he’s going to apply that principle. Regardless, once he’s reached his opinion on it he’s not one to change his mind. That’s also part of what makes him so inscrutable. I wasn’t sure if being able to connect his EMP countermeasures to the previous day’s attack would help me or not but he wasn’t even going to let me check on it. The dead end was frustrating.

When I walked into the hotel lobby and saw Mix waiting for me I just about turned around and walked back out.

Mix isn’t a Gap but he’s probably as close to one a psychometric can get without his mind falling into whatever place Gaps go. He works with artists of all stripes as a kind of production manager, anticipating their needs and smoothing their process along. The problem is he gets bored with them very quickly and moves on to other things. He also works as my Galaxy contact, and fills a similar role with four or five other psychometrics attached to the organization. I don’t know if he does it to make ends meet between gigs or if he just gets something out of doing it he doesn’t working with nonpsychometrics. What I did know is that his coming to see me personally was not a good sign.

I didn’t realize exactly what kind of bad sign it was right away.

“weakArmor,” Mix said. He looked at me like I was a cramp in his style, which was odd given we were both wearing off the rack blue linen suits. Likely he just hated that he had to come out here and meet me, Mix’s base of operations is LA and he doesn’t care much for travel.

“What can I do for you, Mixer? I thought we had my retainer with the FBI worked out already.”

“It’s taken care of. However, Galaxy leadership is deeply concerned about the situation here. I don’t think you need me to explain why.” Mix radiated nervousness. While psychometrics can’t block each other out, any more than you can turn invisible by closing your eyes, we do develop a very strong hold on our mental presence from an early age. Under normal circumstances the way Mix was broadcasting was considered pretty rude and sloppy to boot. His being so upset suggested Galaxy truly believed we were in a unique predicament.

“I’m familiar with the parallels to our recent history.” I started towards the elevator, wondering what part of this could have brought Mix all the way out here. “Forgive me if I don’t understand exactly why that brought you out here.”

“They want to take you off the case.”

I hesitated, my hand half raised to the elevator call button – I trusted Galaxy elevators like I trusted no other elevator on Earth. “What?”

“You’re the only third rank psychometric to ever make it working forensics. You have almost a decade of experience. By all rights you should be out of the field already.” Mix gestured away from the elevators and off to the left, indicating one of the lobby’s many small meeting rooms that they kept on site for… well exactly these kinds of situations. “This has the makings of a volatile situation. Walk with me.”

It wasn’t exactly a long walk. Thirty seconds later we were through the door. Aurora was waiting for me.

Do you remember that girl from high school? The awkward one who was a little too tall or a little too chubby or a little too slow to react to what was going on around her to really fit in? The one you find on social media now that you’re out of college and discover she models for Sports Illustrated, or whatever it is that hires models these days? Psychometrics have an equivalent for that, people who haven’t quite grown in to their abilities despite being of an age where they should be maturing. They look like a mess of loose emotions, stray thoughts and pending neuroses. Then something shifts in their mind and suddenly they’re perfect.

Because of how traumatic the world can be for a young psychometric we’re kept together in controlled environments from a young age. I’ve known Aurora since she was four and I was five. When I took up my interest in deconstructing the past Aurora still had the scatterbrained personality she had when she was seven. Two years later her mind was a pool of vast, deep tranquility that has only grown broader and deeper in the years since. I almost bolted from the room then and there.

Most people don’t deserve to experience that kind of peace. I’m no exception.

Thankfully my own cynicism rapidly overcame Aurora’s calming effect, because if Mixer and Aurora were here then I knew what was going on. Aurora patted the empty space on the sofa she sat on. “Have a seat, Trevor.”

Aurora doesn’t like the false name convention that Galaxy uses. I’ll always be Trevor to her, and I’m sure she’d like me to keep calling her Betty. I don’t think she realizes how little the name fits her now.

I smiled and took a seat on one of the chairs adjacent the couch, because there was no way I was getting that close to her, and laced my fingers together. “Well. What brings two tier five psychometrics to see little old me? Especially the only medical psychometric in Galaxy? Surely you have better things to do.”

Mix took the chair across from me, leaving Aurora alone on the couch. “I told you, Galaxy wants you off this case.”

I ignored him and kept looking at Aurora. “Weren’t you working that drug research project? The diabetes one?”

That got her to blush, Aurora and I both work in fields that expose us to more pain and suffering than most of our kind can deal with. I keep an eye on her cases just to make sure she doesn’t bite off more than she can chew. But I honestly suspect if one of us snaps, it’s far more likely to be me. There are just too many Newell High cases out there for me to dodge all the bullets.

“We wrapped that up four days ago. I was going over new possibilities with Mix yesterday, when the Constellations sent him out here.” She shrugged, as if getting orders from the five best psychometrics in Galaxy was a routine event. Maybe it was for her. “They thought I might be able to help him.”

“Help him take me off this case?” I’d already gotten that far. But it’s always wise to let people tell you things when you’re questioning them. “How are you supposed to do that?”

“I didn’t really get that myself.” Aurora put a hand on my elbow, focusing my attention on her next words wonderfully. “But I know they need you to teach, Trevor. No one else can do what you did.”

I did my best not to smirk at the absurdity of that. “You deal with suffering people every day, Aurora.”

“But I have a gift for that. I’ve always been able to share pain then walk away from it. I’m not even sure it’s something people should want to emulate.” A glance away, the barest ripple on the surface of her tranquility. She honestly didn’t like that part of herself. “You taught yourself to deal with suffering without the marks it left changing you. That’s something you can teach others. And if you get wrapped up in some kind of Silicon Valley corporate war you might… you might lose your chance to pass on what you’ve learned. You’ve done this for a long time, Trevor. You deserve a chance to step back from it and do something else.”

And what if I didn’t want to do anything else? That was the question Mix had failed to answer every time he’d brought me this same pitch before. “All fair points, I suppose. But I don’t think you understand just how bad this ‘corporate war’ could get. Mix, I know you’re part of the committee that tracks these kinds of things, Silicon Valley is at a tipping point.”

“I agree.” I could tell Mix had followed my internal assessment of Aurora’s argument and knew I wasn’t going to change my mind. I could also sense vindication coloring his attitude – he’d expected this outcome and hadn’t wanted to bother trying this. “But that’s all the more reason to pull you out.”

“The FBI needs their best on this case, Mix. And it’s not like there’s a huge difference between a first and third tier forensic psychometric.”

“See, you just contradicted yourself there, Armor.” Mix crossed his legs and assumed a pose like a smug, lecturing professor. “If there’s not much of a difference any forensic psychometric we already have could fill your shoes while we send you off to train a new, better crop of forensics experts. Only if you’re special – and thus too valuable to lose – do you become impossible to replace without a drop in quality. And we’re more than willing to see that drop if it means not losing your skills. You just don’t want to teach.”

I rolled my eyes. “I’m just better at avoiding dead bodies or places where people died than most. I’m sure I’ll find one to drag me off to the next world one of these days.”

“Please don’t talk like that,” Aurora said, her fingers digging into my arm as her grip tightened. “Fatalism is a killer as certainly as violence or illness. I see it every day.”

Some of the annoyance and bitterness drained away. Being awash in the emotional detritus of others every day made it hard for me to find meaning and purpose of my own. Some days it felt like every thought I had was plucked from the background noise and not something of my own. Aurora never worried about those kinds of things; I knew she didn’t realize she was sent here not to reason with me but to appeal to my protective feelings. The Constellations knew how I felt about her and they used it, but that wasn’t her fault. “It was nice seeing you again, Aurora.”

I got up and Mix stood with me. Aurora was getting up to go with us but Mix waved her back down and followed me to the door. I paused just outside and said, “Please tell me you don’t want to add anything. This was going to be a fiasco and you knew it.”

“But I can’t talk back to the bosses. No, I don’t want to add anything about you taking a teaching job. We both know that will never satisfy you.” Some of the smug satisfaction from earlier was gone now. “This is about your case. The State Police found something they think might be connected and the FBI wants you brought in to check it out.”

“What is it?”

“A body.”


One response to “Pay the Piper – Chapter Seven

  1. Pingback: Pay the Piper – Chapter Eight | Nate Chen Publications

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