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Old Oct 28 2007, 06:56 PM   #1
D. M. Domini
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Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: Chicagoland

Fan of: Afra Lyon, and Robinton!
Now Reading: Sabriel by Garth Nix
Post Fic: And Then There Was One (Talent Universe)

This is a story based on Anne McCaffrey's Talent series. Universe, worlds, and characters belong to her. I am merely playing around with my super-duper-cool Talent Action Figures!

And Then There Was One

by Portalvast Magus

Summary: Talent-fic. Merci Gren didn't mean to plan the political assassination of Earth Prime. But when that same Earth Prime is undermining the work of centuries, she has a choice to fight to keep the FT&T as she knows it intact, or just walk away and let it crumble behind her. She's not about to let it crumble.

Characters: Merci Gren, Edward Jackson, Peter Reidinger IV, Eleena Siglen, and Roarch Guzman.

Rating: T for mature language.

Timeline: Set post-Pegasus In Space (by a few centuries), but pre-The Rowan.


Chapter One

Merci Gren - 1

“Will you put the damn flowers down and come listen to me?”

Edward Jackson, Earth Prime, gave the second in command of Earth Tower a mild look, then returned to easing out a new plant from its temporary pot so that it could be replanted in its new home in the large oval floral container that sat before the full-wall holo of the FT&T Pegasus, adding to the grandeur of the front entryway of Earth Tower. “It’s after hours. What you have to say can wait; the flowers, however, can not. They’ll die soon if not planted, since I was unable to plant them yesterday as I had planned. Have patience, Merci.”

Have patience indeed, you tree-hugging pseudo-empathic jerk, Merci Gren thought furiously from behind her shields. “I wouldn’t be cussing at you if it wasn’t an emergency,” Merci said tightly. This is something we need to talk about. In a private room. Right now.

Edward didn’t respond, although she knew he had heard her telepathic message. Instead, in that passive-aggressive way of his that always infuriated her, he slowly planted his beloved exotic floras, getting his high-priced Talented hands filthy with pitch-black dirt. Before she could lose her temper entirely and do something crass like telekinetically overturning the planter and its contents on his head in full view of all the security cameras, Merci turned her back on the man and glided away.

The small storage unit she held in between her fingertips as she walked away was the size of a pea, and held information that threatened much of what too many Talents before her had worked to accomplish. It could quite literally disrupt the integrity of the entire Nine Star League, and here their beloved Earth Prime was, playing with his green thumb. Green dick was more like it. Dicking around. A wise-ass politician years ago had tested the waters with snarky slurs, and the Prime stood up on behalf of all the Talents in the known universe about as firmly as used toilet paper. Twenty years later, the same slippery politician was putting forward a motion to rescind the FT&T’s neutral standing and break it into planetary divisions, integrated directly under government control.

And therefore corruption, and red tape, and management by governmental weenies who didn’t know a thing about Talented abilities, or ethics, or capabilities. The first thing to change would be the typical six hour workday into eight hours. Why should Talents work less than their fellow men? Did they think they were better? As if governmental management prigs would ever see the graphic medical holos of past Talents that were overworked and actually started consuming their own bodies to power their abilities because the normal three meals a day calorie intake was no longer cutting it on the expanded schedule? An anorexic non-Talent took weeks of semi-starvation to skeletalize their bodies. An overworked Talent eating what would normally be a typical diet for an adult could bring themselves to the same state in two days.

And that's just what a change in work hours alone would do to the FT&T. Benefits would be cut next, to "bring spending down" and suddenly all those freelancer jobs and big corporations who wanted pet Talents of their own would be snapping up Talent the FT&T needed to keep the towers running, because their salaries and benefit packages would look attractive in comparison to the travesty of a government-run FT&T's benefit package. Working in a Tower was a boring job, particularly for the telekinetics...catch, throw, push, pull, teleport here, teleport there, wash, rinse, and repeat. Over and over and over again. The fact that the FT&T took such meticulous care of its workers was the only reason a group of people statistically brighter than the average stood still for it. So when the government inevitably cut benefits, Talents would flee, then pricing of telekinetically moved cargo would be hiked accordingly, and the economies of entire planets would alter when offworld trade became prohibitively expensive. It would be a mess.

And visions of generators shedding parts in your head, Edward said. I think you’re exaggerating things. The FT&T isn’t going to suddenly come under direct governmental control. And even if it did, it wouldn’t come to the extremes you’re envisioning. If this was a remote possibility, we’d have a precog report.

Not necessarily, Merci warned in a dire tone.

Edward popped into the meeting room that Merci had chosen, and watched her casually, with his hands in his pockets, as she stalked back and forth in front of the inert holo display, her sharp high heels boring little circles into the carpet. His hands were still dirty, and she was sure whoever did his laundry would have a hell of a time getting dirt out from the inside of his pockets. He was like a gigantic three year old sometimes, playing in the mud. And the health of the FT&T depended so much on him acting like a strong leader...which he wasn't, not really. She wasn't quite sure what the founders had been thinking, giving Earth Prime such a broad expanse of powers with so few checks on what he might do with them. Or not do.

Of course, she doubted much would get done if a board of high talents were in charge instead, given the inflated egos of any given high talent. They would produce just as much hot air when crammed into a boardroom as any other run-by-committee corporation did. So perhaps there was wisdom in the system after all.

She kept these thoughts behind shields, however. She didn't intend to get demoted to some ack-bass planet because someone took her thoughts of alternate forms of running the FT&T the wrong way, or because Edward spontaneously acted in self-defense for the first time in his life and got rid of her before she could get him replaced. Instead, she popped her data cube into the holo display and teased a chair away from the center table of the conference room and took a seat. Edward remained standing, little crumbs of soil decorating the edges of his pockets. She repressed the urge to telekinetically brush the dirt off like she would with her daughters and turned to watch the holo display in the center of the table.

After the holo had played, Edward turned to her. "So how long did you spend editing the holo to display all the worst bits?" he asked. "Did you use the fancy editing software your husband uses for his job?"

"How does the software I used to put a report together have anything to do with what's contained in the actual report?" Merci asked in astonishment. "The fact remains that none of this should be happening. We have Talented families--low talents, but Talent all the same--on Altair, and Capella--"

"Everyone knows Capella marches to its own drum," Edward said, dismissing the planet. "And it is, and always has been, the individual's prerogative to decide if they want to join the FT&T, or even get a test done to see if they even have Talent."

"There are millions of people on that planet you just waved away as inconsequential, it's second only to Altair in terms of population. Just because they think differently than us doesn't mean we should dismiss them. And Talents not joining the FT&T is a very big deal. What are we doing wrong, why are we less of an attractive choice? The statistics show a marked downswing in the number of new Talents coming into the organization, and a marked upswing in old, known Talented families who have been a part of the company for generations failing to bring their offspring and relatives into the fold. In addition to that, polling has indicated that anti-Talent sentiment is up for the first time in more than a century. Which means these politicians pushing to make the FT&T a government institution might actually have a chance. Because the populace might well be behind them on the matter. Not to mention that manufacturers of goods everywhere would loooove to gain the ability to be able to lobby special interest groups and actually have an impact on FT&T operations, as they would if the FT&T became a governmental institution."

Edward sighed. "Forward the data to my com."

Merci popped the cube out of the holo projector, and held it out to him. "Here you go."

"Not that, I want the raw data."

Merci stared at him.

"Reports are generated from formulas that are determined by the report-maker and may reflect the report-maker's bias," Edward said, his voice light in a way that said he was seriously annoyed with her, even if he was shielded in such a way no mere T-3 as herself could pick up any flickers of emotion. "I wish to run my own reports against the raw data."

"And introduce your own bias," Merci said, feeling deeply insulted. But she couldn't deny him the data. Not that she wanted to per se, the data spoke for itself. She just felt like being contrary. But she couldn't be, and it would just annoy him to go directly to the Stationmaster, HR, Marketing, and elsewhere to gather the data from scratch. Easier for him to just get it from her.

"And introduce my own biases," Edward repeated her words with a quirk of his mouth. "Humans are, by nature, biased creatures, aren't we?" He gave her a smile that might be cute on a young student somewhere, but which just infuriated her instead.

"You'll have the raw data within the hour," she said expressionlessly.

"Thank you Merci. I'll look it over tomorrow, I'm ready to go home for the night. Cheers."

Merci watched as Earth Prime strode out the door, whistling, as if he hadn't a care in the world. She caught the faint thought that he did it just to annoy her, and thinned her mouth into a line before standing and teleporting back to her office to do more data-crunching. She would, once again, pick up his slack. Damn the man and his passive-aggressive ego.


Author's Notes: I do intend to finish my other stories. This one just kept biting at me. Sorry! (If you're not familiar with my other stories, see Sackcloth and Ashes, an AU fic focusing on Afra Lyon, and Boxed: A Story of Talent, a post-The Tower and the Hive fic about a dysfunctional Prime.)

Please review--it lets me know if I'm doing things right or not. Thank you!
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Old Dec 19 2007, 10:52 AM   #2
D. M. Domini
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Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: Chicagoland

Fan of: Afra Lyon, and Robinton!
Now Reading: Sabriel by Garth Nix
Re: Fic: And Then There Was One (Talent Universe)

Chapter Two

"Children are so interesting. My son, he wants to be a colonist, you see. My son! This kid who has lived his entire life in the big city. I told him, no kid, how do you know you're not going to be one of those city people who totally freak out the first time they're under sky that's actually black and starry, with the wild animals roaming outside, fearless of humans, and so on? And so he says he loves camping, and I say, honey, colonizing a planet like Deneb is a totally different tune than camping out in one of the preserves with a few buddies. And he says, I know mom, in this really snotty voice. You know, the one we used to use on our parents. 'But I don't want to work in a Tower!' he says. He's telekinetic, you know. Damn strong too. But he really wants to go out and colonize, even talking about changing his last name for it, some sort of bird theme. It's amazing."

"Why doesn't he want to work in a Tower?" Merci asked. Serafina was the head of Talent Training and Development, and would chat on for hours about anything and everything. She was also slightly telepathic in a way that let her send her internal monologue out about as loudly as her speaking voice to anyone in close enough range could hear it, but not being a telepathic receiver herself, she sometimes didn't realize she was doing it. She used herself as an example in class--see, this is what happens when you don't have training! But it wasn't exactly a training thing...her Talent just lacked a working volume knob. Which wasn't uncommon--at least her default "volume" wasn't a hair-raising scream, as it was for a few certain notorious telepaths. It was more that she was just partially telepathically deaf.

"I don't know why he doesn't want to go in the FT&T. It's a mystery." Serafina studied Merci for a few long moments, as they sat at the cafe table, waiting for lunch to be served. "You're working too hard."

"I'm pulling double duty," Merci said.

Serafina's eyes widened. "You're not supposed to be doing that."

"It's not all tower work. I'm not insane, you know. I do my six hours backing Edward up tossing things to Altair and Capella and the like, then two on paperwork, and then an additional four on...things." Her voice was sour.

"Did someone quit?" Serafina looked thoughtful, and Merci could hear her sorting through the tower staff for likely prospects.

"No, nobody quit. Somebody just doesn't like to do his damn job. Say, have your people twigged any new talents recently? Strong ones?"

Serafina didn't let herself be distracted. "Edward's such a nice young man, I don't see why you don't get along with him. You used to get along with him very well."

"Ten years ago." Merci waved her hand, trying to dismiss the subject before Edward happened to pick up Serafina's unshielded thoughts.

"We have young Peter Reidinger coming up the line, but he's still too young for us to start training him. He's at least a T-3, probably stronger." Serafina had an odd talent that made up for her weak telepathic skills and made her perfect for her job; she could judge a person's talent rating within a half-level of what it would be when they were grown and at their peak of life. It was a bit odd for her to give such an indistinct range.

"He's a prime," Merci said. "Why are you waffling over saying it?"

Serafina grimaced. "Because he has an ego as big as an elephant."

"...and that's unusual for Primes...and teenagers...how?"

"Shush, I don't have shields like you do. Let's focus on something different...like how yummy that food coming for us is going to be."

And indeed the waiter was coming with their food, and Serafina was quite good at masking her thoughts with the taste of zesty salad dressing spreading over her tongue in tart goodness.

Merci chuckled. "You're like a telepathic advertisement for this place. Anyone 'tuned in' is going to run over here for their lunches too."

"Mmm-hmm," Serafina said around a mouthful of greens.

They ate their lunch in silence for a while. Merci's eyes absently roamed around the restaurant. It was mostly Talents and FT&T employees, with a few business travelers mixed in. The place was off a bit from the main throughway in the vast Earth Tower complex, through a hall that made newcomers suspect they perhaps shouldn't be walking down that way, although it lacked "Employees Only!" signage. Merci preferred it to the more tourist and traveler-frequented places, mainly because she had never yet been waylaid by a CEO frustrated that his or her particular pod's travel time had been delayed for whatever reason.

Of course, being waylaid by the Tower's employees was another matter. Halfway through her excellent bowl of soup the com that was nestled in her ear most of the day chirruped and spoke. "Merci?"

"Yes?" she said. Serafina looked up at her for a moment, before determining she was speaking to someone else.

"This is Amelia. I know this is your lunch hour, and I'm really very sorry for interrupting it, but we can't find Edward and his com is off to anything but a the-Navy-is-attacking-Earth-Tower-with-nukes kind of emergency, which this isn't really."

It'd serve him right if we put a message through on that band, just to get through to him, Merci thought. "He said something about Bermuda," Merci said instead.

"That'd be out of my range, even if I wasn't a one-way. But this is important. Can you come speak to me in my office?"

"I'll be there momentarily," Merci said, and started to look around for a waiter.

"Don't worry about it," Serafina said. "I'll get it packed up and find someone to 'port it to your desk so you can enjoy it later."

Merci smiled. "You're a dear. Thank you."

"Not at all."

Fifteen minutes later, Merci was in Amelia's office.

Amelia was a mouse-like woman, with brown hair, and brown eyes, and a small upturned nose. If she stood still, it would be easy to overlook her. Which was probably why she was always in motion, like a small mouse skittering around its enclosure, the sort that would cause an entire herd of elephants to trumpet and stampede. With good reason, too; she headed the clairvoyant and precognant arms of the FT&T, and typically didn't approach people unless she had something to say. Her primary Talent being what it was, what she had to say wasn't always welcome.

"I have these printouts," Amelia said, a folder full of them floating over to Merci. "Little things. The odd 'cogs, you know?"

The "odd 'cogs" were the clairvoyant and precognant Talents that either had such an odd focus that they rarely had any visions that procured information of interest, or had episodes that were so featherweight and scattered that it was very difficult to piece the puzzle together. Foreseeing the present or future was trying to guess the picture from a half-completed puzzle even with the strongest Talents of this sort, but odd 'cogs had even less than the usual clarity.

"Before I look at these, how would you sum up the forecast?" Merci asked the other woman.

"I would say tremors and navel gazing," Amelia said cryptically.

"That's either very profound, or somebody has gas," Merci said with a snort.

Amelia obliged with a tinkling laugh.

Tremors and navel gazing. Tremors meant that this might be one of the times where the odd 'cogs predicted a prediction by one of the heavier-class precogs. Like the tremors before an earthquake. Navel-gazing meant something local, be it the local physical location, or something that affected family, or even Talents themselves as a group.

Given the data sets she'd waved at Earth Prime the day before, that gave her a bad feeling. It wouldn't be the first time the odd 'cogs rippled a bit just before or just after some Big Problem fell into her lap, like nausea stirring in the collective Talented gullet.

Merci sank into a chair in front of the other woman's desk, and flipped through the plastic sheets, thumbing an animated display here, and a tinny sound recording of the precog's voice stating what he saw, which made the sheet tremor with sound waves.

It took fifteen minutes to go over the sheets, and an additional ten to play detective and see how these bits and pieces of scattered, discombobulated information gelled with what she knew already. "What made you decide to show these to me?"

Amelia shrugged. "You or Edward? My gut. Which actually means my brain; I reviewed the logs and I definitely had a small precognant episode when considering my gut feelings. The squiggly lines don't lie!"

"You keep your brainwaves under surveillance?" Merci asked in surprise. Such record-keeping had been pandemic in the early days of the FT&T, out of necessity, granted, given the general public paranoia, but these days it usually did not occur once a Talent was out of training.

"Remember that incident twelve years ago, with the clairvoyant trainee?"

It had been before Merci's time as the second in command of Earth Tower, but she did indeed remember. "That was a long time ago."

"Once burned, twice shy," the other woman said wisely, tapping her nose.

"Were you in that training class?" Merci asked.

"Yeah. She sat next to me, and we usually ate lunch together."

"Ah," Merci said, understanding. Now that the woman was head of the Precognant and Clairvoyant arm of the FT&T, she didn't need old skeletons coming back to haunt her, even if they weren't her skeletons, strictly speaking, at all. Merci could understand that.

"Well, thank you for showing these to me. I admit nothing definite has fallen into place by reading them, but the smoke they show me matches the smoke I've been smelling. If any more come in--"

"--I'll keep you up to date," Amelia said, and then grimaced as the faint sound of the huge Tower generators revving up caught her ears. "Sounds like Edward is back; should I forward them to him too?"

Merci doubted he would get much more from them than she had, but he was Earth Prime and should see them as a matter of course. "Yes, please do."

Amelia nodded. "Well thank you for coming down here; my 'gut' felt like someone should look at them, right now. But it doesn't look like you came away with much of anything." She sounded disappointed.

"I trust your Talent," Merci said. "Perhaps they'll come in useful later on today; that's usually how things work."

"That's diplomatic of you," Amelia said, and Merci caught the ill-shielded thought that Edward had been disregarding the ones that weren't immediately obvious.

"Well, second in command is always the PR man, or woman. But for what it's worth, my trust is genuine. I need to skedaddle; if Edward's warming up the generators, we'll be pushing space junk around shortly. I'll see you later, Amelia. Mind if I take these with?"

"'Not at all. See you later, Merci."
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