Black Box

The Land of No Cigarettes

Happiness is mandatory, citizen.

The group wakes to find themselves sitting in comfortable easy-chairs, around a large table in what looks like an office conference room. When they first wake they are all filled with a sense of calm & relaxation, which quickly wears off as they begin to examine their surroundings. They are all wearing blue coveralls, and appear to have been changed right down to their underwear – a fact which does not please Suzy in the least.

On the table is a note (“brb, Director Stern”). There is a sideboard with muffins, fruit, and coffee. When Suzy stands up to get something to eat, Pete notices a scab on the back of her neck. A quick examination reveals that everyone has a similar mark. Infuriated, Vanessa tries to TK punch the wall to break away out. Just before she does so, she hears a soft beep and then feels a vicious shock inside her mind. Angered further, she starts to shout and threatens to throw a chair at the door. A disembodied voice tells the group to be calm, that Director Stern will be arriving soon.

While they are waiting, Pete quietly admits to Phia that she was right, and that he was wrong. Vanessa tears off a sleeve of her coverall and throws it over the camera in the corner, prompting protests from the disembodied voice. Eventually the door opens to admit an older gentleman – 50s, white hair, evidence of a smoker – who takes a seat at the table and introduces himself as Director Stern.

Vanessa & Suzy proceed to berate him for locking them away and taking away their free will. The Director allows their tirade to continue uninterrupted, until they declare that he has no idea how they feel at which point he shows them a scar on the back of his neck. It seems that Dir. Stern has been with The Department for decades.

The Director proceeds to explain how the group has been brought here for their own protection, as well as the protection of innocent civilians. He admits that they spent more time “unsecured” than is normal, which will make their transition more difficult, but argues that “you are safe here, and will become safer”.

Taking the opportunity to get at least some of their questions answered, Vanessa presses for more information. Dir. Stern explains that they are all psychics, and that their condition is a naturally occurring genetic mutation. He works for the government – eventually admitting it is the US government after much pressing from Suzy – and is part of an organization that was developed to “secure” psychics in order to guarantee the safety of civilians. Although the politics are complex, he assures them that everything has been done legally, and that as part of their training they will learn the Telepaths’ Bill of Rights.

With regard to the implant, he explains that they are all currently “white listed”, which means they cannot use any of their abilities without permission. With proper authorization – gained once they prove they can be trusted – they may gain access to some of their abilities. While they are in the facility, they will not be wired to request permission, since there is no need for their abilities to be used.

Vanessa eventually asks about returning to their normal lives. Declaring that she has no wish to use her abilities, she argues that since they are all neutered they may as well be let go. Dir. Stern avoids the main question, but tries to assure them that their lives have been “taken care of”. When the group assumes the worst, he explains that they are all simply “on vacation”, and will have the chance to talk to their friends & loved ones “soon”.

At one point, Eugene pipes up to say that this all makes perfect sense (much to the rest of the group’s horror, for various reasons). As they all have the potential to be incredibly dangerous, he fully supports the idea of limiting their abilities for the greater good. This gains him much disapproval points among the rest of the group.

Wrapping up the informational portion conversation, the Director reminds them that they are also here for their own safety. There are many unsecured telepaths in the world, who can be incredibly dangerous. When pressed, he refuses to give any information regarding T-0. He also admits that, while The Department wants a good relationship with the group, the primary concern is to keep the citizens safe. They would like cooperation, but will proceed without it.

As the length of their stay is indefinite, the group asks after their belongings. The Director says that they are all safe, although he seems slightly unsure about their clothing, and that everything will be returned after it has been catalogued and sterilized. They are also able to talk their way into access to the smokers’ lounge, after a combined death-glare when Dir. Stern mentions the possibility of them all quitting.

When asked about what their training will entail, he says they will primarily be learning how to use their abilities properly. They will also learn the Bill of Rights, as well as have some classes on ethics (prompting Pete to give Phia a significant look).

Next, the group is taken on a tour of the facilities. Dir. Stern mentions blithely that there is surveillance in all of the common areas, so if any of the group wanders into an area they should not be, they will be escorted out shortly. He explains the colour coding of the access areas, and recommends they all stay in the green zones.

First they are shown to their quarters. Much like a suite in a dormitory, they have a common room, 2 bathrooms, a kitchenette, and 5 bedrooms. In each bedroom is a bed, a desk, and a small dresser. They are also shown the cafeteria (hot dogs for lunch, but the dinners are usually pretty good), the gym (with a pool, hot tubs, sauna, track, and weight machines), an arcade (Area 51, haha), and tuck shop. Phia asks about money, and is told that they will be compensated for their time with “Department Bucks”. Along with a daily allowance, they can also garner extra funds by doing voluntary tasks. Upon closer inspection, it appears there are no cigarettes in the tuck shop. The tour ends with the location of Director Stern’s office, where they are invited to come any time if they have questions or concerns.

Returning to their dorm, the group’s first task is checking for cameras. They are unable to locate any (but some don’t necessarily trust that they aren’t there). Then, they split off, everyone trying to deal with these new developments in their own way. Phia manages to locate some paper and writes. Pete, Suzy, and Vanessa go to the gym. And Eugene goes to talk to Dir. Stern.

Eventually they all meet back at the dorm. Pete apologizes to the group, saying that it’s his fault they came here without finding out more information. Phia accepts the apology with ill-grace.

Ben, one of the agents who was sent to collect the group, appears at the door pushing a small cart with all of their belongings. Phia throws her pencil at him, Suzy throws her pillow, and Vanessa punches him in the face. Pete, horrified by this behaviour, apologizes profusely. Ben leaves, and the group goes through what was returned. All of their clothes and any personal belongings appear to be here. Their wallets were included, but all money and ID are gone. Pete’s drug stash has also been removed. Phia searches her laptop for evidence of tampering or key-logging software, but is unable to find anything.

At dinnertime they head to the cafeteria. It is fairly full, with about 50 people sitting and eating. Some are wearing lab coats, some are wearing jeans, virtually no one is wearing coveralls. They see Ben and the young woman who was involved in their capture sitting alone at a table, talking animatedly. Eugene, considering how long he is likely to be in this place and the slim chances of any of the women in his immediate company sharing his bed, goes over to make friends. The rest go into the kitchen to grab their food. Suzy and Vanessa move quickly, and then march over to where Ben & the young woman are sitting. Suzy tries to hit the woman with a tray, but misses. Eugene tries to move between the woman, but is too slow to keep Vanessa from dumping pudding onto the young woman’s head. The woman bellow’s for authorization, but the only response is a loud alarm and flashing red lights. Everyone else puts their heads down. Pete and Phia quickly find seats and do so as well, and Pete is quick to learn that the group is already pretty unpopular with the rest of the inmates.

Eventually Director Stern appears, accompanied by Alpha. Sparing a disapproving glance for Pete & Phia, he walks quickly to the area of interest. Alpha asks the woman (Penelope) and Ben to come with her, much to their disgust. Dir. Stern instructs the others to “play nice”, which prompts unkind words from Suzy. However, no punishment is forthcoming and the Director simply leaves.

Most of the group sits together at the abandoned table, with the exception of Eugene who sits by himself. Pete, at his charming best, tries to find out why the group is so hated already. He is told that they’re getting special treatment, and they almost caused a lockdown. The woman, Kathy, eventually comes to sit at their table and explains that she is the “unofficial cruise director”. It turns out that she has been in The Department for 5 years. Through careful questioning the group learns a few important things. First, they seem to be more powerful than they should be for “beginners”. Second, there is a ranking system for strength, that runs from T-5 to T-1, with T-1 being the most powerful. A light dawns among most of the group with regards to the name T-0.

They also find out that they have apparently been here for two weeks – or at least, that is when rumour of their presence started. Kathy says it’s quite irregular for them to be in “gen pop” so soon. When she arrived, she was in orientation for over a month.

Asking after the group’s background, she’s surprised to hear that almost all of them are from the same city (Phia lies and says she’s from Saskatoon). She says it’s incredibly rare for more than one psychic to be brought in at a time, and is incredibly confused when the group admits that they all knew each other before they were secured. Eugene, having joined the group, asks whether a man matching Terry’s description has been brought in. No.

The next morning, at about 10:30, a woman named Dr. Claring arrives at the dorm. She explains that they will be doing tests for the next few days, to sort out their current ability levels. The group finds out that she’s read all of their files, Eugene’s research papers, and Phia’s book (which she was apparently not much of a fan of).

The next few days are spent with quizes, surveys, psychological interviews, and tests of telekinetic ability. They are also continually asked what they can do, what they have already done. If any in the group starts to give specifics, they are brushed off as “not necessary”. It is also quickly apparent that Dr. Claring has no scar on her neck, suggesting she is either not a psychic, or has escaped being secured.

There are also group discussions, primarily on the issues of ethics & free will. Eugene explains that free will is an illusion, especially in light of the abilities that the group has.

Two concerns come up over the course of their testing. First, with regards to their abilities, they are only focusing on TK skills. When Phia asks whether they are going to be exploring other avenues, Dr. Claring asks what else she might be interested in doing. Demurring, Phia simply says that she is getting bored of lifting weights.

The second concern is Pete’s: that the group has received no information regarding the so-called Bill of Rights. He asks Dr. Claring several times and is put off. Eventually he is summoned to Director Stern’s office and given an envelope with the bill of rights inside. After decifering the thick legalize, it becomes clear that psychics have zero rights when their actions would interfere with a czitilizan’s ability to live without fear of mental manipulation. Although they are guaranteed food and shelter, it is clear that they are guaranteed Department food and shelter. In fact, it becomes clear that the document could more accurately be titled the “Civilians’ Bill of Rights”.

A few days after waking up in the boardroom, they are all summoned to Director Stern’s office. He asks whether they would be interested in gaining more privileges/trust. He explains that the problem of unsecured psychics is a global one. As the Soviet program (which had been quite highly regarded) fell apart when the rest of the Soviet Union did, there are several unsecured psychics in that region of the world. In fact, most of modern-day Russia is apparently controlled by the manipulation of psychics who were trained in the Soviet program. The Department has gained a lead on someone, and will be sending a team to secure them. As a test of the group’s abilities, they are to shadow the collection team and help where they can. They are told that they will be able to use their abilities, with authorization provided by Director Stern.

After some discussion, the group agrees that they will go.


Bless your tired soul, Bootles hehe

The Land of No Cigarettes
JCat Dawnis

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