There was a knock at the door of Julian’s new office. He didn’t hear it, he couldn’t, but he detected the tremors with his psychic sense. He turned towards Operation Supervisor Price, who stood next to the desk.
“Could you get that Price?” He asked. Price sighed.
“I thought a promotion would mean less opening doors,” he grumbled. Opening the door he motioned to the figure standing outside, who, after a moment’s hesitation, walked in. It was a tall, gaunt woman with a piercing stare and haughty movements. Julian looked past the face at the thought-form, a twisting, myriad things of eyes and mouths. He recognised it.
“Sam,” he said, “please, take a seat.”
Sam pulled back a chair and sat, folding one leg over another and resting their hands on their knee. They looked about the office space, then back at Price who had closed the door.
“Can we speak in private?” They said.
“Sure,” Julian folded his arms on his desk, “just stop speaking. I can’t even hear your actual speech anyway, I’m just reading your thoughts. Think what you want to say.”
“Okay,” Sam thought. They were a natural. Many people found it difficult to just shut their mouth and think, “I want a job.”
“A job,” Julian put his head to one side and leaned forward a little, “you’ll have to be a little more specific I’m afraid. You want to be a guard, an agent, what? What are your qualifications? I heard about your heroic actions in fighting the minions of Amadeus, but that’s not exactly a comprehensive resumé now is it?”
Sam frowned. Their skin rippled and changed and the gaunt woman was replaced by a nervous looking young man who fidgeted and licked their lips nervously.
“Actually,” they thought, “what I really want is your help. I just want to know how you do it.”
“Stop yourself,” Sam thought, “I’m… I’m trying to get a fresh start. I’ve done bad things in the past. Not terrible things, but bad enough. I don’t want forgiveness, but I want to move on. I want to understand how you stop yourself from doing those things. You have power, but you don’t use it. Why not?”
Julian nodded. Of course. He should have seen this coming. He could have, but that kind of mind reading wasn’t really polite, given the circumstances. Pulling his chair a little closer to the table he sat a little more upright. He found himself instinctually forming a steeple with his fingers. Maybe the habit came with the job.
“How do I stop myself?” He murmured in Sam’s mind, “That’s difficult. The thing is I don’t. I’m using my powers all the time. Just not misusing them. That’s the thing, it’s so tempting. To misuse your powers, it’s instinct. It’s also wrong. Why should rank ones and twos suffer because those of us with rank three powers think that it’s okay to use them to do whatever they like?”
“Yes, yes,” Sam nodded, “I understand that. It’s all very nice, but you have no idea how many times people have sermonised with me just like that. It’s all very nice, all very caring but it doesn’t do much good. Now, how do you really do it? How do I stop?”
Julian opened his desk and fished around inside it a little and took something out. He placed it on the table in front of him. It was a little picture frame. In it was an image of a smiling woman with long, wavy hair.
“Find someone to love,” Julian said. Sam stared at the photo. They reached out, picked it up and examined it. Their expression when they looked up was incredulous.
“You’re in love with her?” They thought, “Does she love you back?”
“No, she’s terrified of me,” Julian said, “she’s been campaigning for years to get me locked up. I fell in love with her entirely by accident, actually. When I was younger I had considerably less self control, you understand. Back then I drank minds willy-nilly. It’s shocking I wasn’t sentenced to a longer term when the law did catch up with me. One of the last minds I tasted belonged to this woman’s boyfriend. I didn’t drink up much, but I did take his love for her. I didn’t understand love back then. I thought it was a fleeting thing, a flavour I could snap up like any other. I didn’t know that love is like a scar: you can never get rid of it.”
Sam watched Julian speechless, wide eyed and attentive.
“What happened next?” They asked, forgetting to think the words.
“Next I went to jail,” Julian said, “and while I was there that love stewed inside of me. I realised how much I must have hurt that woman, how much I’d taken from her by taking away the love that now rattled around in my skull, refusing to go away. In jail I vowed that I’d never hurt anyone like that ever again and when I got out my love bound me to that promise. I still do love her, though it’s died a little. She can’t stand me, hates the very sight of me, which is entirely understandable. Still, I keep this photo just to remind myself that I can never use my power selfishly or self-servingly ever again.”
He stopped. While he’d been speaking in their mind Sam had slumped back a little in their chair. They nodded, wonderingly, and swept their hair back from their eyes.
“That,” thought Sam, “was simultaneously the saddest and creepiest thing I have ever heard.”
“Charming,” Julian replied.
“So… what? I have to find someone to fall in love with? That’s not exactly going to be easy.”
“You don’t need to be in love per say,” Julian picked up the photograph and put it back into the draw. He sensed that Price had been looking at it with curiosity, “just find someone you really care about. Think about them when you’re making decisions. Until then I probably can offer you some kind of role in the Department. I’m sure someone with your powers will be useful to us. What do you say?”
He stretched out his hand. After a brief hesitation Sam shook it.
“Deal,” they said.