Fourteen-year-old Ray Kedro was backed up against one of the mural-painted walls in the Middle Boys’ recreation yard doing what he could to defend himself, when twelve-year-old Adam Mann first saw him. Adam glanced up from the electronic pagesof Space Force Adventures , and watched for a few moments witha playground veteran’s indifference. Then he realized that the six kids facing Ray had more in mind than the routine taunting and roughing that they were likely to hand out to any newcomer. This time some of the guys were really hot about something.
Most of the angry bunch were a year or two older than Adam, and all but one of them were taller. But he was widely respected on this territory. He folded the comic book, the electronic pictures on the thin plastic pages darkening into lifeless-ness as he did so, and stuffed it into his pocket. Moving in the slightly swaggering gait that he had recently developed to what he considered near-perfection, he walked toward the group.
“What goes on?” Adam demanded. He had dark eyes that were often, as now, belligerent, medium brown hair with a slight curl in it, and a nose that had not been broken-not yet at least-but looked as if it might have been.
“He’s a snooper.” Big tough Pete swung out a long arm and slapped the new kid again. “He can read your mind. He’s gonna be singin’ for the bosses here-”
“I’m not!” The new kid was tall for the age-group of this yard, but thin, with incongruously good clothes that were dusty and rumpled now from his being pushed around. Mussed blond hair fell over blue eyes that looked scared but still didn’t blink at being slapped. He had a handsome face, almost delicate, and bleeding now a little along one cheekbone and from the nose. But he didn’t look to Adam like a sissy, only like a guy who couldn’t understand what it was all about.
“He made them dice move!” another guy standing beside Big Pete put in. The tone made it a deadly accusation.
“You wanted me to play with dice!” the new kid shouted back at them. To Adam he still looked more angry than afraid. “I had to show you first what I can do. If I play dice with you, you’ll have to trust me-”
“Play dice, play dice!” Pete mimicked, in a changing, cracking voice. Whenever Pete’s voice betrayed him in that way, making him sound funny, he got mad, and now it made him madder than ever. “You goddam fairy!”
The guys were all yelling now, and waving fists. Adam was suddenly scared, in a cold, clear way. Not so much afraid of getting hurt, but that these guys he knew could get so wild over something like this. Some stupid nonsense that didn’t matter. It didn’t sound like the new guy had really done them any harm.
Adam was beginning to understand, vaguely, or he thought he was. There were, there had always been, a few people in the world who could move dice in more subtle ways than with their fingers, move dice or other small objects using their minds alone. The same people, or others with unusual mental powers, could perform other tricks, equally unsettling. Parapsych talents, the books in the Home library called such abilities. Up until only a few years ago hardly any scientists had believed that such things existed. And Adam had never to his knowledge met any of the rare folk who were so gifted.
The little mob was surging forward, bent on destruction. On impulse, Adam shoved his own strong and stocky body in front of the new kid, and knocked down big Pete’s upraised arm. “Let ‘im alone!”
Big Pete halted, gaping. “Why?”
“Because I say so!”
Pete gave an angry grunt, and swung. Adam’s reflexes and timing were already superb; his head moved safely out of harm’s way, and his own right fist was already in a good position to hit back. He got enough weight behind his counterpunch to flatten Big Pete’s nose.
Furious and clumsy, the little mob closed in on Adam and the new kid. Something hit Adam, hard, on the side of his head. In a daze, he found himself flat on his back on the playground’s genegineered grass, looking up at a ring of faces filled with hate and excitement. In a way, though he knew better, it seemed to Adam that they were all playacting, they couldn’t be serious about this great stupidity they were engaged in. A part of his mind kept wanting to laugh at the foolishness of it all, even while he kicked and struck up at the lowering faces, and feet kicked back at him.
Then the recreation yard monitors came, running and shouting threats, from wherever they had been goofing off. They were older teenagers, full of strength and energy once they got started, and they arrived just in time to break up the fight before anyone was killed or crippled.
Half an hour later, sitting on a cot in the infirmary, waiting to get his lumps patched up, Adam listened with some satisfaction to the moans and curses coming from the next cubicle. That was where they were working on Big Pete, and from the snatches of the medics’ talk that Adam could hear, it sounded like maybe Pete’s nose was really broken.
Beside Adam sat the new kid, holding a coldpack to his head. His battered and dirty face was still handsome, but an empty, stunned look occupied it now. He was quivering faintly.
Adam asked him: “What’s your name, guy?”
“Ray Kedro.” The kid pulled in a deep breath, that helped him regain a measure of steadiness. He looked at Adam. “You may have saved my life today-I won’t forget it.” He tested a loose tooth gingerly with his fingers. “You’re name’s Adam? I hope this doesn’t mean a lot more trouble for you.”
Adam tried to laugh with a split lip. “Hey, they won’t do much to us for fighting. Long as nobody got killed. Some extra duty probably is all. I was about due to hang one on Pete anyhow. Hey, was all that true, about you being a parapsych?” It was the first time Adam had ever tried to pronounce that fancy word, but he felt pretty sure that he had it right.
Ray hesitated, looking at him closely, then nodded. “I have-some of those-talents.”
“I could if I tried, I suppose.”
“What about reading minds?”
The other shook his head. “You just don’t reach into someone else’s thoughts, for no good reason. It’d be like. well, like doing the dirtiest thing you can imagine. I mean, I wouldn’t like it any more than the person I was reading would.”
“Huh.” When Adam heard it put that way, it sounded more intriguing and at the same time more repulsive than before.
As if encouraged by Adam’s reaction, or lack of one, Ray went on: “Maybe youcan do it, but you don’t. Of course if the other person wants you to get into their mind, and tells you so, that’s different.”
“Huh.” Adam considered. “Hey, you know, I read somewhere once that any parapsych who could move dice with his mind could kill people too, just as easy. You know, just grab a little valve or something in their heart-”
“No.” Ray’s voice was flat and certain. “The talents don’t work like that, they won’t kill.”
“They won’t, huh?”
“They never have. There’ve been people who have tried it, but they just make themselves sick. Oh, someone might find a way to do it someday. Someone who was evil enough and worked at it. There are a few very rare cases-but those are spontaneous combustion-” The blond boy broke off, smiling suddenly, wincing as he did. “If I had any kind of a knockout punch, I’d have used it out there today.”
“Hey, yeah, I guess.”
Adam’s prediction about the degree and type of punishment for fighting in the recreation yard was proven accurate. All those who had been involved in the playground brawl were given extra work, beginning the next day after school.
Assigned to work together, using ,a sonic machine to clean the walls and floor of a long corridor tiled in white and green, Adam and Ray talked again.
Adam asked his new acquaintance: “You know anyone else who’s a parapsych?”
“Yes. Ninety-nine of them, to be exact.”
Ray paused thoughtfully. “Ever hear of a doctor, a medical researcher, named Emiliano Nowell?”
Adam tried to remember the name. He looked through daily news printouts sometimes, on days when he didn’t use up all his reading time on library books and adventure comics. And he read news magazines when he could find them. “Emiliano Nowell. Isn’t he the guy who bought out an old Space Force installation way out on Ganymede, and set up a place there to do research? Why’d he go way out there?”