Chapter 2: Eccentrics

ISA Agent Thom Busby

In early 2542 Taban and Kalian left Earth for the still new Mars Colony. If asked at the time, they would have probably spun some tale about wanting to be on the frontier, about having grown tired of Earth with the growing population, dwindling resources, and the increasingly provincial attitudes. While these reasons certainly contributed to their decision1 to leave Earth, we knew by this time that ISA2 Agent Thom Busby was investigating them for cyber-crime and they left to avoid the surveillance.

This was in and of itself not terribly unusual; the Morgans were known to be active and influential members of the cyberspace community. While they probably were guilty of the crimes as charged, the fact is that most people were easily guilty of at least a dozen such crimes. Anyone who strayed from the commercial or common spheres of the net much was likely guilty of a dozen minor infractions. The fact that they were being pursued for these crimes was sign enough that Thom Busby’s investigation was punitive: it wasn’t possible to legally send people to jail because they were telepaths. In 2541 and ‘42 the general public didn’t know that telepathy existed. Thom Busby’s hostility was clear to Taban and Kalian, the telepath community, and even a mutual colleague–and friend on my part–of Busby and myself: Quinn Dasen. Though we never worked closely, we did interact professionally a number of times. At the time I just thought he was driven enough to be a pain in the ass and too self centered to be much more than a nuisance. How wrong I was.

In the intervening years, I have tried to avoid considering if Taban and Kalian–all of us really–attracted undue attention to ourselves by hiding out or leaving Earth, but Quinn assured me that this wasn’t the case, and that despite appearances Busby was really too busy pining after some ill gotten notion of lost glory or some-such, to think through his cases objectively. And yet, I do believe that although Busby might not have set out to chase after telepaths, there is no doubt that he became a telepath hunter.

Yet, I remain unable to completely comprehend his motives, even after all these years. Telepathy, or more properly, the existence of free telepaths living and operating in society was a possibility that he was unable to assimilate normally. Many people had problems with telepathy in similar ways, but it’s clear that Busby was exceptional in this regard. He was not simply worried that someone might learn his deepest and darkest secrets, but rather took telepathy as some sort of personal affront. This is conjecture: I never talked to him earnestly, if that were possible, and no telepath that I’ve ever known of got a read of him, so I suppose we’ll never know.

At first, Busby wasn’t a special concern concern, there were ways for Taban and Kalian to avoid getting caught for cyber-crimes, but as the Morgans developed their skill they became much more worried about discovery. Or perhaps I should say, they were worried about being discovered if it wasn’t on their terms. Even before they left for Mars, there was a fairly substantial community of telepaths on Earth, and a minority of non-telepaths like myself, who were all “in the know.” Particularly in retrospect we all knew that it was something of an open secret, but it was hard to see that in the moment.

So by early 2542, Taban and Kalian left Earth for Mars. I had never expected to join them, nor do I think at the time they intended to move back to Earth when telepathy had “blown over,” but that is I suppose the reason why the future is always “yet to be.” In any case Mars Colony was far from perfect in many respects, more so then than now, but it was controlled and Mars represented a fresh start that we all found attractive in contrast to Earth, which to all of us felt wrapped up in too many traditions and stale habits.

I suppose if I had to come up with only one thing that I learned from Taban and Kalian, it would that we all need fresh starts from time to time. Thankfully I don’t.

Matthew Connor, MD
Mars, 2597

Morgan Residence, Mars Colony, 2542

“Kyp’s here!” Kalian called out, after the door chime rang.

Taban was in the office trying to get one of the data analysis scripts to work before calling it a day. This was, as far as Kalian could tell, the chief problem with life on Mars as a “freelance” intellectual: work was never more than a few paces away and it was too easy to say “well, there’s nothing better to do, so…” and then loose your evening to a project. But this was nothing new, they’d both worked the same way on Earth.

“Ok, I’ll be right out, It looks like it’s going to work this time, I think I forgot to filter the data through the sort-transform script.” Taban was still engrossed in the project. If it did work, the system would be busy for the rest of the evening, and Taban would be forced to come out and be social.

“Don’t you just hate problems like that.” Kalian, if annoyed, was still sympathetic.

“Coming,” Kalian said even though the door was sound proof: habit. Kalian set the first round of dinner–some sort of vegetable dish with bread–on the end table next to the sofa, walked around living room, such as it was, to the door.

Kalian got to the door and opened it, finally.

“Kyp! It’s been too long!” They didn’t embrace or shake hands, but they both grinned widely. Telepaths didn’t touch casually or reflexively. other people, telepaths or not. Touch enhanced telepathic responses, and it could be jarring. Taban had figured out how to counter this response a few years back–so that telepaths could blend in better in public–but neither telepath felt the exertion worthwhile.

“How are you doing?” Kalian asked.

”I’m doing well, it’s so quiet here, still. I’ve been coding all day, so it’s nice to get up and move around,” Kyp said as he walked into the apartment and closed the door behind him. “I thought I’d acclimate or get bored, but it’s been what? Almost a year?”

“On Mars!”

”–a Martian year–and it’s still great for me. It’s probably too soon for you to tell,” Kyp said and cocked his head at one of the boxes. still in a corner in the living room, “but I think you’ll like it here.”

“Kyp! Good to see you,” Taban sad, fumbling with the light switch in the office. “My head’s still in this project, sorry I’m not more on top of things.”

“It’s ok, it’s great to see you finally. You all have gotten a lot unpacked, in not very long, I still have a few of these boxes around,” Kyp said.

“It’s all Kalian’s fault; I’ve been eyeballs deep all day.”

“Except…” Kalian reminded.

“Of course, In addition to getting us unpacked, Kalain is also responsible for our only progress.” Taban smiled.

“Thank you, dear,” Kalain said, and laughed.

“Do you want to sit down, or were you planning to stand?” Kyp asked after a moment.

“Lets sit,” Kalian said, ”I’ve been on my feet all day. Mostly.” They sat. All the furniture was prefab ”I’m not sure how the whole needing to move to think thing is going to work out here.”

Kyp shrugged. “This place is bigger than what you were used to, and I can show you where all the good places are for walking in the colony, sometime soon.”

“That would be great.”

“So tell me about this coding project,” Kyp said.

Taban snorted, “It’s hardly coding, I think we’re, or rather I’m, just inept with it. Just data processing and analysis scripts.”

”I’m sure you’re doing just fine. You’re always on about how you can’t code, blah blah blah, except that you’re brilliant and fast. You taught me half of what I know, Taban!”

Taban muttered something but it didn’t interrupt Kyp’s flow.

“Remember how many months of my life were obsessed with tracking you down through the nets back home?”

“But that wasn’t really programing, as much as it was, knowing people, Taban said.

“That’s why telepaths are so good with computers though.”

“G-d, don’t start this again,” Kalian said, laughing.

Taban and Kyp both smiled. “In any case, if you want a second set of eyes, I’ve worked on similar stuff, I think, right?”

“No, no it’s alright, I’m sure you’re plenty busy, and besides I have it figured out for the moment. We hope.” Taban said.

“I don’t mind, really, there isn’t much hacking to be done on Mars, but thankfully there’s plenty of Legit work, not any of it’s interesting. So go figure. And you know it might be fun to never have to audit another compression and encryption script.” Kyp smiled and took a deep breath.

”I’ll be in touch,” Taban said. “Are you doing your work manually, or have you been jacking in?”

“Mostly manually here, nothing needs it, sometimes I plug in, for old time sake and to stay sharp, but I don’t really need to,” Kyp said. “And hell, it’s not like the ‘living room’ or office is particularly scenic.”

“Well our priorities, are pretty clear from our unpacking strategy.” Taban said.

“You have your jacks up and running?”

“Oh yeah,” Kalain said. “We had the system up and running before we’d even seen the bedroom.”

“Wow, and you say you’re not programers. Geeze,” Kyp said, smiling.

Taban shrugged, but didn’t say anything.

“At least you have some of the dust under control,” Kyp said.

“I should say!” Kalian said, and reached forward to draw a finger across the table, leaving a noticeable mark. “Maybe I’m just being a little prissy, but it’s still pretty bad. I think maybe, sir, you’ve acclimated to the filth.” Kalain laughed.

“It’s possible.” Kyp raised his hands in mock surrender. “For the longest time, I couldn’t figured out how it all got in, I never went outside. Then I realized that it had to do with the cargo loaders, they track dust in when the crates come in, and it’s pretty much a lost cause.”

“Oh, right right. That makes sense, and yeah, recreational space walks didn’t ever seem to make much sense to me.” Taban said.

“I like my air pressurized all by itself thank you very much,” Kalian said, laughing.

“So, tell me about the research. You had what? Six months on the ship and nothing to do but entertain yourself?” Kyp said.

“Six months? Was that all?” Kalian asked.

“We’re still slogging all that data we collected right before we left Earth. All sorts of boring physiological data and more hacked together brain scans than I want to think about,” Taban said. “Or the computer wants to, it seems.”

“Yeah, it’s good that you got all that data before you left, because it’ll be harder to get stuff here,” Kyp said.

“Probably true, but I think with this in hand we’re probably pretty safe. We do some small studies to highlight particular effects if we need to, or if we find new techniques, but we’re in good shape with collection it’s just all the writing and processing that’s left,” Taban said. “There’s just so much data that it takes a long time to crunch through it.”

“I can imagine. Hell, I remember working with your systems a few years back,” Kyp said.

“We got a lot of writing done during the trip out here. It was amazing to collect all of the things we’ve been helping folks with for years, articulated and written. There’s a lot there,” Kalian said.

“And it’s so different for everybody, and multi-layered,” Kyp said, gesturing with his hands in an attempt to find the right word. Taban and Kalian nodded in understanding, so he continued. “Well I’m just glad I don’t have your job, even though I’m more than happy to help you out every now and then.”

“I know where you’re coming from Kyp, but you could do the training stuff if you wanted, but it all feeds into itself,” Taban said. “These days we’re just trying to figure out how all of us can have so much control when we didn’t used to. And by god if we’d had this research ten years ago? It’d be a different world.” Taban said.

“It would be for sure. ” Kyp said.

“I mean interference isn’t even an issue for most people any more,” Kalian said.

“Thank god.” Kyp said, more thankful of the opportunity to change the subject, “By the way, have you met Renee, here yet?”

“No, we just got here! But keep going, what of her? Kalian said. “Her, right?”

Taban smiled and cut in before Kyp could answer, “Yes, weren’t you supposed to be our guide to these lands?”

“Yes, yes, I’m sorry, we’ll have to do better. There aren’t many of us of course, telepaths or net hackers,” the “us” was often ambiguous for Kyp, and telepaths and hackers were nearly the same thing to him. “Renee is probably the oldest the telepaths that I’ve met here, but most of the folks here are kids.”

Kalian laughed. “You’re calling them kids? Wow.” Kyp was younger than Taban or Kalian who were themselves still considered “young” by most.

Kyp laughed as well, “Yeah, I know, right? Anyway Renee grew up in Old New York city–after the, ah, of course–anyway–and she hasn’t had a lot of training. Like, she really can’t be around big uncontrolled numbers of other people, she’s that sensitive.”

“Wow, I’ve only met a few people like that, what kind of training has she done?” Taban said

“Well not very much actually, which I know is sort of surprising, I’m sure she’d be a great person for you to do some work with. I’m actually not that sure where she is–power wise–not that that matters.”

“Right of course, just academic interest,” Taban said.

“How’d she get to Mars? No training means, not one of ‘ours,’ right?” Kalian asked.

“Yeah, she just came to Mars in the first or second wave, years and years ago, to get away, and then we showed up, much to her surprise,” Kyp explained.

“And that’s enough to unsettle anyone,” Taban said.

“But she’s been a great force in the community: sets a tone that almost everyone’s happy with, and there isn’t the constant crisis or stress that you’d usually expect, good people. I’ll set something up.”

“Thanks,” Taban said.

“I look forward to meeting her, it’s nice when these communities work out,” Kalain said

“Telepaths are different, it helps,” Taban said, and then chuckled.

”I’m not sure we can rely on that staying true,” Kalain said a slight smile betrayed Kalian’s serious tone.. The argument was as unresolveable as it was old, and the Morgans had almost made a sport of reenacting the discussion, even switching sides when they grew bored of their positions.

“Well in any case,” Kyp said. He could see where this was going and nipped it in the bud. “Maybe I’m just too much of cyberboy, but I’ve never had great experience with all of this community… crap,”

“You’ve gotten better with the–” Kalian said, trying to capture what Kyp meant, “Well, the crap. I think you’ve gotten better, at least. How’s your head doing?” Kalian said.

“We’ll I’ve gotten better with the plug, faster, better range, and I can carry a bigger buffer than most of the other people on the nets, or could. Mars is small you know, but I don’t think this is incredibly unusual, other telepaths seem to have similar sort of results. Gus, was probably on a similar trajectory,” Kyp said. “As for offline? Mixed results, but I make do.”

“Really? that’s great. Have you been in touch with Gus since you got here?”

“A bit… he’s doing well, I think, or staying mostly out of trouble. His new partner is really on top of things, I hear. I want to meet her, but I don’t want to have to at the same time.”

Kalian nodded in sympathy, but Taban answered: “And have you had any pain? Adverse affects from the plug, with your telepathy?”

“I still get headaches, but I don’t think that’s related to the plug, and they’re always explainable: poor eating and sleeping schedules, clear overuse, and what not, but I’ve had such headaches for a long time, so I don’t know.”

“We all get those, I suspect.” Kalian’s response was quick and positive, likely to prevent Taban from driving the conversation into the pits of disappear. Taban meant well, of course, but Kalian thought that pessimism needed to be tempered, at least sometimes.

“But I don’t think we should sit for them, at any rate.” Taban said, “Kyp, if you don’t mind I’d like to keep an eye on it.”

Kalian continued to smile kindly, though it did little to temper Taban’s tone, and Taban continued, “there’s not been any research into any of this.” Taban paused for an instant to think, “You know we could even probably get scans don here and send them back to Matt and see what he says…”

Kyp’s brow furrowed in worry at this last suggestion, “Wait, isn’t Matt a pathologist of some sort? Is there something wrong?”

“Yes, yes he is,” Taban said, replying quickly to Kyp first question, before realizing his error, reflected in the worry on Kyp’s–and now Kalian’s–face. “No, sorry, no there isn’t anything wrong, Matt’s just the only doctor we have. He’s forever seeing biological things that I’m missing, because we’re not doctors after all. Sorry again.”

Kalian was quick to speak next: “don’t worry though, there’s no need to worry, really, I even remember you complaining of such things when we were back on Earth. I mean it’s still a curiosity, and now that we’re here we have more time to look into these things”

“You’re right, you’re right,” Kyp said, taking a deep breath, “a lot of ways things are better here. There’s a lot less interference here than back home, and I’ve realized that I can spend a lot more time in public without any sort of headache or fatigue. I think Mars might have something to do with it.”

”I’ve noticed that it’s calmer here, or something, but I thought it was just that I was able to relax a little better, but maybe you’re right,” Taban said.

“Wait, you mean, Mars as the fact that there’re fewer people here?” Kalian asked. “Because, we’ve known about population density issues for a long time, of course”

“It might, but being here always felt more relaxed somehow. I spent some time alone, really alone, for a few months on Earth, and it never felt like Mars does.” Kyp said. “I mean, I’m not being systematic about it of course, but maybe there’s something else at play.”

“It’d be worth looking into that.” Kalian said “Taban, remember those acclimation effects that we looked at a few years ago?”

“Yeah?” Taban asked, unsure of where Kalian was going with the idea, which was, and Taban smiled at this thought, a bit ironic. “Go on.”

“Do you think it’d be worth reviving that data, and using Mars as a variable? Or just try it over here?” Kalian asked

“Do you really think it would go anywhere?” Taban remembered the horrible flop that the project was. The theories seemed logical, but they couldn’t find data to suggest that telepaths could experience long term effects from environmental acclimation. Kalian loved the theory, but it never really turned into anything, and other projects always seemed more important.

“Maybe. Though we’d have to change–”

Kyp cut Kalian off, before the conversation turned into something way over his head “Not to sound ungrateful for your hospitality but aren’t you supposed be taking a break?” He laughed.

Kalian smiled. “You’re right. We should probably eat, you know, before it’s time for breakfast.”

“I think that’s a wonderful idea, but I think I see where you’re going with this Acclamation stuff,” Taban said, indicating both Kyp and Kalian.

“Of course,” Kalian said.

Eccentrics

I’ve mentioned before that Taban and Kalian, were unusual and memorable individuals. While telepathy itself doesn’t affect observable morphology at all, this didn’t prevent Taban and Kalian from seeming, well, a little bit off to the casual observer. Those of us that spent a lot of time with them, adjusted quickly, which made interacting with the unknowing public an interesting experience when Taban and Kalian were around. By now, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve avoided referring to Taban and Kalian as being either male and female: this is a reflection of their own custom, and a tradition that I hope to cary on. While I’m not sure that it had much to do with telepathy; it does, even to the most contemporary readers, require a little bit of explanation.

It would be incorrect to say that Taban and Kalian didn’t have gender, or sexed bodies: they had both, and for the most part fairly typical in their expression of these traits. I said earlier that they had slight builds which I am convinced allowed them to “pass” their avoidance of “man” and “women” with some success. When in public situations, particularly on earth, they were almost always assumed that they were both “she,” in print they were almost always both “he,” at least sometimes. I’ve attempted to remain true to their wishes to “not get pinned down” in this text.

Without fail questions about Taban and Kalian’s gender or sex are among the most common that I’ve received since I got to know them closely. I’m sure this is a remnant of them speaking, but the fact that society can never seem to decide if it’s “sex” or “gender,” at least in popular usage, only confirms the fact that no one really knows what they’re talking about. Taban and Kalian, were eccentrics, rebels, or deviants and I think that their refusal to claim “man” or “woman,” was a large part of this feature of their characters: so I suppose in this respect, their gender-rebellion was part of a larger revolt against convention that grew out of their experience of telepathy.

At the same time, while I met Taban and Kalian before they had reached the height of their ability, I only knew them after they had met each other, and after they had made their original discoveries into telepathy, so I guess my perspective is less than helpful on this matter. I don’t think Taban and Kalian’s rejection was anything more than a specific rejection of categories that by all accounts did not fit them, and I have attempted to remain true to this aspect of Taban and Kalian’s story.

Matthew Connor, MD
Mars, 2597


  1. The fact of the matter is that, at that time most people said that they were at least a little interested in moving off world if you asked them. Significantly fewer were willing to pack up and leave Earth. The Mars colony had been established in the 2480s, but had never attracted the large number of colonists that the instigators behind the project had initially predicted.

  2. International Security Agency. I suppose in the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I too was an agent in the research/forensics department of ISA, in the ’40s. ISA was the sprawling Earth-based security, intelligence, and law enforcement agency that had near universal jurisdiction. Far from being a coherent organization, ISA was far too large to consistently secure, know, or enforce much of anything. This made it all too possible for possible free agents like Thom Busby to operate inside of ISA without much recourse for the rest of us.

tycho garen

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