Home Is A Distant Dream
Author: Lily Zen
Notes: This is kind of a sequel/prequel to The Ocean Is Home To Sirens. It's definitely in the same 'verse, except it focuses on my original character from the aforementioned story, Jay. I told you I thought he was interesting, remember? Well, I wanted to explore him a bit. This takes place about one year prior to The Ocean Is Home To Sirens and All Water Leads To The Ocean.
Disclaimer: Push does not belong to me. Jay does. Inherit the Wind is not mine. It's a really good play about a trial that took place in the Bible Belt arguing about teaching the theory of evolution in schools.
Jay, or rather Jason Walsh, was a fourth-generation telepath, though they were also called Readers due to the simple fact that they read minds, not altered them. It was an important distinction from the other class of telepaths, the Pushers, and sometimes the only thing that saved Jay from being hated and feared like the category two telepaths. Of course, back when Jay's great-grandfather had survived the Holocaust, they had all been lumped together. Information on psychic abilities was scarce and the possibilities were just beginning to be explored. Jason's great-grandfather had been a first-generation Reader, or at least the first generation that had been recorded in his family, and he had passed the trait on through his daughter, who had then passed it on through her twin daughters, one of whom, Kara, had passed it onto Jason. The other, Jocelyn, had been taken by Division as an adolescent and never seen again. Kara, Jason's mother, had told him that Jocelyn's gift had matured early and been out of control. For her own safety, Division had taken Jocelyn away.
Though his mother rarely spoke of it, Jason knew that Kara still felt the ache of her missing sibling even after all those years. It showed in little things, like the similarity of his name to his absent aunt's, and the fact that his mother had gone to work for Division of her own volition. He didn't know how she felt about them or what she thought of their policies—most Readers developed strong mental shields early in their lives to keep from going mad under a constant deluge of others' thoughts; those same shields also kept out other Readers and to a certain extent, Pushers. Whether or not she truly believed that Division was doing the right thing was unknown to him. Maybe she was looking for Jocelyn; maybe she was truly grateful to Division for saving her sister. Jay had no idea. His mother had always been a mystery to him in a great library full of open books.
What Jason did know was that Division was going to be a constant presence in his life whether he wanted them to be or not. One way or another, he would be theirs. Either he would be taken like his aunt had been, or he could go willingly and lick their boots for a few years until he'd earned his freedom. With a mother who may or may not have been a loyal Division dog, was it any wonder that he'd heeled without being told to do so?
They had first come around when Jason was ten. Kara's partner, an older man with graying hair at his temples—Warren, Warrick, Walrick?—and a younger black man with a shaved head who stared so intently that it made Jason fidget in his seat and look at him only peripherally. They had brought with them a machine that spit out white ticker tape from one side and stuck things on his head with little wires on them that connected him to the machine. Then he took a test in a booklet like they sometimes did at school, and the men oohed and aahed over whatever the little slip of paper told them. Jason knew he was doomed. They would be back for him someday.
The thing about telepathy was that it was an umbrella concept. Under that umbrella, there were several sub-categories. The first were Readers, true telepaths who did nothing but read thoughts. The second were Pushers, those that manipulated thoughts. For some reason, category two telepaths were far more commonplace than category one telepaths. It probably had something to do with the fact that most Readers did not live past early adulthood. The suicide rate amongst Readers was the second-highest among psychics in the world; Watchers were first. There was also a third category of telepath, but one that was almost always discounted: Sleepers. Those were telepaths who could only enter another person's mind when both the intended victim and psychic were asleep. Oftentimes, physical skin-to-skin contact was required to make the connection, though the stronger Sleepers could sometimes make the connection without it using a technique similar to lucid dreaming. Out of the categories of telepaths, Sleepers were considered the weakest and least useful, and were the highest in number amongst telepaths. That was probably due to the fact that their ability had such limitations to it, so the rate of madness among Sleepers was greatly decreased. Readers were the rarest, the most prized, and so Jason knew that Division would be watching him very closely.
Over the years, he was tested twice more, once at fourteen and once at seventeen. Six months before his high school graduation, Jason was offered a position as a Division agent.
Even though he had known it was coming, Jay hesitated. He was leery of Division, mindful of the times he'd caught his grandmother crying over a faded photograph of two twin girls. Once, his nana had gotten drunk during Passover and begun yelling about how his grandfather had let them take her. Grandpa had quickly shushed her and shooed her off to bed for the night, saying that she was going senile. Jay didn't know if that was true, but the incidents had stuck with him none the less and shown him that not everything was as it seemed, that people lied and told half-truths, and the only thing that was real was what he could Read for himself.
Two months later, he met Taylor on a class field trip at the art museum. He was sitting on a bench in one of the little off-shoots of the main floor. The glass cases were filled with old china from different periods, and the lighting was rather low to preserve the delicate materials. Jay had chosen it because the area was relatively devoid of other people. His peers wanted to look at more exciting things than old dishes and the chaperones stayed with the larger volumes of kids, so Jay could sit by himself in the quiet, dim room and do whatever he wanted. He had his compact laptop in his hands when the girl walked in the room.
She had on faded ripped-up skinny jeans that still managed to drag on the floor, and one of those white vintage tees that clearly showed the lacy, bright yellow straps of her bra and a black tube top. Her scuffed Converses squeaked a little as she stumbled over the slight lip on the floor. Jay had looked up then, startled by the noise, and caught sight of a cute little girl butt as she bent close to one of the cases and a long tail of wavy, red hair that reminded him of watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit as a kid.
"It's kind of cool, huh?" Her voice broke into his ogling, "The idea that they kept all of this old stuff, these extravagant plates that people used to eat off of and discard, and now we call it art. Can you imagine eating a pop-tart off of this? Decadent." She had a slight accent, one that he couldn't place, and she spoke like she was more educated than she looked or had been at one time.
When she turned to him and seemed to be waiting for a response, Jason found himself shrugging. "I guess," he said uncertainly, caught up in trying to figure out what color her eyes were behind the lenses of her glasses—the black plastic frames that he'd noticed were really popular with the trendier kids at school—and why he was only picking up bits and pieces of her thoughts, like a radio station that faded in and out.
Her eyebrow lifted behind long, shaggy bangs, a moment before she rolled her eyes. "You guess? Kid, you better learn to use your brain to do more than just 'guess' if you want to survive this shitty world." Her stance shifted, hip cocked to the side, and a wallet chain swung slightly and settled. Jay held the power button on his computer and shut it off, then tucked it back into his backpack as he stood, faking nonchalance. He was growing suspicious of this girl, a tiny little slip of a thing who stood cockily and spouted off mysterious crap at him.
"You think?" Jay responded with his eyes fixed on the gold plate in the display case, knowing they were dilated to pinpricks, flickering back and forth very much like he was dreaming with his eyes open. He focused all his talent on Reading the girl, trying to break through whatever mental barrier she had erected. Sifting through her mind was like driving down a foggy road late at night. He could only see what his lights focused on and his intense focus, his brights, for lack of a better term, just seemed to make it harder to see until he was panicking slightly in the car, praying that he wasn't about to hit something or drive into a ditch.
When Jay came back to himself, he was on one knee in the dimly lit china room, and the redheaded girl was crouched with him and had her hands wrapped around his arm, like she'd grabbed him to slow his fall. Her eyes were wide, showing a rim of white around pale, grayish green irises, and her plump lips were slightly parted as her tongue licked them nervously. "Jesus, kid, what the fuck? You shouldn't have done that. Oh my god, why didn't they tell me you were a paranoid little bastard? Are you okay?"
Jay was staring at her, he knew he was but couldn't seem to help it, his mind still a little slow from the mental exertion. He was having a hard time processing her words. Finally, he just settled for nodding his head, then shaking it when his blonde hair slid into his eyes. He needed a haircut, but he kept forgetting.
"Are you really?" she asked, then thought, How many fingers am I holding up?
He heard it clear as day and said out loud, "You're not holding up any. You've got your hands on my arm."
The girl laughed, patted him, and released her grip. "That I do." Then her mind went back to that mental static before Jason could get a clear Read on her. "I'm Taylor," she said, "Sorry I scared you."
"You didn't scare me," Jay responded, automatically defensive.
Taylor snorted derisively and drawled, "Sure, I didn't. Look, why don't we sit down on that bench over there and chat? I'm not here to hurt you. I just want to talk." Jay stood up obligingly then, and Taylor followed him over to his bench, hovering a little anxiously until he sat down. "Sorry," she said again, "They don't usually send me for this kind of stuff. I'm not very good at it, but you're being Watched by Division. The only way we could make contact with you was through a Shadow. I'm a Shadow, by the way." The girl plopped down onto the bench next to him and braced herself on either side with her palms flat on the seat slightly behind her.
That explained a lot. Jason had heard of Shadows before. They were psychics whose specialty was shadowing a certain area around them from Sniffs. The larger the area, the more powerful the Shadow, and the most powerful ones could even guard against Watchers and apparently Readers as well to a certain extent. (Later on, in his Division agent training, Jay would find out that they called psychics with this high level of ability 'alphas.') Judging from that little demo of her ability, Taylor was a frighteningly powerful Shadow, which explained why she wasn't locked up in a Division holding cell. They couldn't catch what they couldn't find.
Shadows, like Readers, were a part of their own branch of psychics referred to as nulls. The term was employed for any psychic whose ability was to negate another psychic's. Walls, Negs, and Takers were all types of nulls, cousins of Shadows. Walls specifically dealt with telepathy; Negs knocked out any sort of physical manifestation of psychic ability including Moving, Shifting, and Stitching; Takers were psychics who absorbed other psychics' powers through physical touch for a certain period of time. However, Shadows were considered the cream of the crop, because they could turn their ability off if they wanted to. The others had no such control over it.
"Oh, okay," Jason said, "So you're Taylor and you're a Shadow, and they don't usually send you for this kind of stuff. What stuff? What are you talking about? Who are they? Not Division."
"Obviously," Taylor replied smartly, "Not even close. I help out some people who are trying to find ways to weaken and-slash-or eliminate the Division so that psychics can be safe again, because let's face it, we're not. As things currently stand, you either submit to Division or you end up on the lam."
Jay's brown eyes flicked up and met her green ones. "I'm not on the lam," he stated unnecessarily.
The redhead shrugged a slender shoulder. "Not yet, but you're thinking about it. We've got our own Watchers, you know. Whether you realize it or not, Jason, you're at a crossroads in your life. What you choose to do here is a path that you can never go back from. On the one hand, you take the job and become a Division dog just like your mom, working for the government in whatever capacity they dictate. On the other, you can disappear and pray that they aren't too interested in one lone Reader. They'll find you eventually, you know, because Readers are rare and you've shown exceptional talent. I'm here to offer you a few more options." She smiled at him and it was soft and kind, different from her earlier abrasiveness.
That pink tongue darted out again and wet her lips, and Jason was momentarily distracted by it. Her lips curved up into a grin when she noticed and had to clear her throat a little to get him to look up at her face again. "We can offer you a life with us. Relocation. Safety. A Shadow to keep you off the grid for as long as you like."
Frowning, Jay asked, "What's the catch?"
"No catch," she said, "The safe house is totally free. As long as you stay there, you're fine. No guarantees if you choose to leave though."
"But…?" he prompted impatiently.
Taylor chuckled. "Really, it's free. You don't have to…to pay us or work for us or with us or anything. We just want to keep people from getting swallowed up by Division. There is another option though, but that's only if you're ready and willing."
Shrugging his shoulders in his striped button-down shirt, Jay asked, "So what is it?"
The girl laughed and tossed her head back, staring up at the ceiling. "I can't believe I'm actually saying this. I laughed in their faces when they told me to ask you. It sounds so stupid." Jay made an impatient hand gesture for her to get on with it, and watched as she rolled her eyes again. "Be a double agent. Our double agent."
"What?" he squeaked embarrassingly, and then ground his teeth in annoyance as his voice cracked a little.
Taylor chuckled again. "See? Crazy, right? They want you to like…go work for Division, do your time, and feed us info on the outside. It's stupid. Reckless. You're just a kid. I can't believe they would ask that of you." They were both silent for a long moment, and she stretched out her legs in front of her, crossed them at the ankles.
"How old are you?" Jay asked suddenly, looking at her clothing as well as her physical build—which was petite and slender, and he had the idle thought that they'd look good together, except she dressed like an indie kid and those kinds of girls never went for Jason; he was too quiet, too much of a loner, too busy worried about Division to care about things like what was popular; his mom bought his shirts and that was fine because Jay had better things to do than go shopping—and her young, pale face, unblemished except for a brown freckle near the corner of her mouth like Marilyn Monroe.
"Twenty," she replied casually, staring fixedly at a small white teacup with a blue painting on it, "How about you?"
"Eighteen," Jason said and felt heavily offended. Taylor spoke like she was a million years older than him and he was just a pup who'd barely opened his eyes yet.
"Yeah? Sorry, you looked younger to me. My bad." Again, Taylor's voice was deliberately cool, her feet tick-tocking back and forth to some unheard beat. "Look," she said and turned to face Jason abruptly, "I've got to go. If I stay too long, the Watchers might get suspicious. If you want to get a hold of me, go to Fixx. It's a coffee shop on 8th. On the back wall, there are a whole bunch of fix-up ads, y'know, classifieds? Leave a message with the barista for mine. You'll know which one it is. Oh, and get rid of that shirt. I'm not getting scooped up because you leave your dirty laundry on the floor. Sorry for all this cloak and dagger shit." She shrugged apologetically, looking sheepish.
"It's okay," he replied while Taylor stood up and left the room with a soft smile and a jaunty wave. "See you around, Jason," was her parting shot before that tail of flame-red hair disappeared around the corner.
For the next week, Jay was constantly distracted by his thoughts and even more distracted with keeping his thoughts a secret from his mother. Kara had returned from work the day of his field trip and on his way up the stairs, stopped him with, "What'd you do today?" Her voice was casual enough, and she was sifting through the mail absently, not even bothering to look at him. Except her pupils were dilated and normally Kara would never ask him such a pointless question. More often than not, they lived as two roommates with separate lives rather than a mother and son—his father had never been in the picture. Jason didn't even know his name. Quickly, Jason thought of nothing but innocuous things and concentrated on erecting a strong mental barrier, the one that kept out the thoughts of others in a crowded room. Division really was Watching him, and clearly they'd instructed his mother to ask about his brief disappearance. Or maybe he was just being paranoid. Either way, it was better just to keep her out.
"Field trip," he called as he pounded up the stairs to his room. After that, he was more cautious about his shielding, making sure that everything stayed safe, walled-up, even though behind his shields he was busily analyzing all of his information on Division and what Taylor, the mysterious girl from the museum, had said to him.
On Saturday, he finally caved and drove to Fixx. The coffee house was downtown in one of the trendier districts. It was fairly close to the college campus, so he would blend in there and smelled delicious. They had a huge display of whole coffee beans like at the grocery store and a self-serve station of bags with a heavy-looking grinder on it. The barista was a woman in her early thirties or forties—Jay was bad with ages, since most adults looked the same to him—who smiled at him when he walked in the door and ordered a large flavored coffee.
Then the blonde kid took a seat near the wall proudly labeled Fixx-Ups and started reading the fluttering sheets of paper tacked up there. It was fairly easy to find Taylor's. There was a number across the top, like all of the ads, and written in bold print at the top, it said "Fiery Redhead Seeks Skinny Geek." He went on to read about how she liked eating off of decadent plates and played a game called Cloak and Dagger. Her biggest fault was that she had strong shields that took awhile to break through. The paper claimed she was looking for "a skinny dude who liked to read a lot and maybe play some games." There was a winking face coyly doodled after.
Jay was chuckling to himself as he drank his coffee, and then after he went back up to the register and asked how to go about contacting someone on the board. The barista handed him a blank copy of the classified sheet and clean sheet of paper. "Fill that out," she said, "And I'll put it up. Then write the number of the person you want to contact on the top of the blank paper, and a message below. Sign it with your number. When you're done, bring both sheets up here. I'll make sure she gets the message. Check back in a week for any messages using your number, okay, hun?" The woman smiled kindly and gave him a pen, and Jason smiled back as he walked away, holding his blank classified ad.
He filled it out, being honest mostly because he was impatient and just wanted to get it over with, and then wrote Taylor a simple note that read 'Can we talk?'
A week later, Jason stopped in again and retrieved a written response that stated 'Wednesday 4 P.M.' So at the appointed date and time, he showed up and met Taylor at the coffee house.
Jason saw her before he even walked in the door. It was impossible to miss that flame-red hair, loose that time and longer than it had looked in the ponytail. There was a bit of curl to it mostly at the ends, like the sheer length of her hair pulled the rest of the bounce right out of it. She was sitting at a table tucked into a corner near the emergency exit, turning the pages of some slim paperback in her hands. Jay was wearing a pair of jeans with his sneakers, and a dark gray sweater over a white t-shirt. It was the closest he got to looking trendy and alternative, blending in a little easier with the college crowd.
The girl at the register was someone he hadn't seen before, but when he took a brief second to Read her, he didn't find anything suspicious. So the blonde haired psychic ordered a large coffee and a delicious looking pastry, carefully balancing both as he skirted around tables and book-bags to get to the redhead in the corner.
Clearing his throat to announce his arrival, Jason found himself speared by green eyes that flicked up from what he could see now was a copy of Inherit the Wind. The corners of her eyes crinkled, framed by dark lashes, and when she lowered her book Jason saw that Taylor was smiling. "Hi, Jason," she said, "Have a seat. It's good to see you again."
"Hey," Jay responded as he smiled back involuntarily and set his things down on the table. He caught a glimpse of bare legs as Taylor shifted under the table and crossed her legs. She was wearing a thin gray hoodie over some sort of many-layered shirt combo and a black pencil skirt. The Converses topped off the ensemble and Jason had a hunch that the redheaded Shadow wore those damn shoes three-hundred and sixty-two days of the year. He let his backpack fall to the floor and took the seat across from Taylor without comment.
She dog-eared her page and set the slender volume aside, sipping from an oversized mug of what smelled like some kind of tea. "So…" Taylor began, "I guess you had a chance to think."
"Ah, yeah," Jason hedged, looking around the crowded coffee shop, "Are you sure it's okay to talk here?"
"Better here than some place secluded," she told him, "Look around, no one's paying attention to us. They're all a bunch of self-absorbed little pricks, talking about how the government's fucked up, man, like they have any idea, and their latest plans for going green or vegan or whatever the cause of the day is." Taylor rolled her eyes, then sneered just a little bit. "Morons." Abruptly, her lips curved upward again. "Besides, the crowd is good. It provides a nice cover for you. Are you going to eat that?"
Jay glanced down at his apple strudel, faintly surprised because he'd completely forgotten about it, then he looked up at Taylor, noting the slightly bruised look under her eyes and her almost waifish appearance. He hadn't noticed it in the dim museum lighting, but it seemed like maybe she was a bit on the malnourished side. Eating disorder, maybe? Or perhaps she just couldn't afford enough food. That wasn't good. Psychics had a higher rate of metabolism than most people that related to the fact that they burned off more energy fueling their gifts. "You want it?" he asked and inched the plate closer towards her. She bit her full lower lip uncharacteristically, and he could see the struggle in her eyes an instant before she pushed it back. "No thanks," she smiled, "If I want one, I'll get my own." Her shrug was casual, as she dropped back in her chair, affecting a more relaxed pose.
"Okay," Jason shrugged his slender shoulders and began using the side of his fork to cut off bite-sized pieces of strudel. "Suit yourself."
Taylor gave him a wan smirk and replied, "I usually do."
After a few thoughtful bites where Taylor calmly sipped her tea, waiting, Jason realized he had yet to broach the subject he had originally wanted to speak with her about. "Mm, sorry," he put down his fork, "That was rude of me. Anyway, I've been thinking about what you said."
"Mm-hm?" A darkened eyebrow, sort of a brownish-red or maybe a reddish-brown, raised up like a flag.
"Division really is tailing me, aren't they?" Jason blurted out, almost in awe of the thought that he was worth so much to them.
Taylor snorted rudely through her nose and calmly replied, "Duh. I told you that."
He shook his head back and forth, blonde hair sliding messily in front of his eyes. "Jesus. That's so weird to think about," he admitted out loud and the young Shadow across from him sighed, her countenance shifting into an indulgent half-smile.
"You're a valuable commodity, Jason," she told him, "Your skills as a Reader have the potential to eclipse your mother's. To be frank, your ability quotient runs almost parallel to your aunt's, except you have the self-control to not let it overwhelm you."
"How do you know that?" Jay questioned her as he touched his coffee for the first time that afternoon, taking a tentative sip and then a large gulp upon discovering that it wasn't hot enough to scald anymore.
Taylor looked at him askance with her head cocked to the side. "You wouldn't be our only source at Division. We took our time researching you when we found out how interested they were. Your aunt's still alive, you know, drugged up and locked down in some Division cell. She has multiple suicide attempts noted in her file, so they keep her carefully Lithium'd nowadays. Sad."
At that shocking bit of news, Jay felt his jaw drop. "What? She… My mother; does my mother know?"
The redheaded girl shrugged once more. "I don't know. She might. If she does, she doesn't seem to care. Your mother has a tendency to keep to herself. Our informants have no idea what her personal opinions are on anything."
Jay laughed derisively. "Yes, that's definitely my mother. Eighteen years living with the woman and I barely know her myself."
The Shadow was silent for a moment, seeming just to take him in with her eyes, and then her expression turned sad. "I'm sorry to hear that. I was never close with my parents either, so I understand how that hurts and yet…doesn't at the same time. You don't know anything but that, so it's hard to mourn something that never existed in the first place, but it always made me sad when I watched my friends with their parents. It was like seeing a little slice of cake I couldn't have, and I like cake; you understand what I mean?"
His head bobbed up and down as a small smirk lit up his face, and they left it at that.
"So you realized I was telling the truth about the Division Watchers," Taylor stated, putting the conversation back on track neatly, "Now what?"
"That's the question," Jason replied, "Do I run and hide, or…?"
"…Is my aunt really still in Division?"
In the end, it turned out there weren't any options at all. He couldn't just leave his aunt, even a woman he'd never met before, in such a place and it wasn't like he had much else to look forward to in life. A life on the run or a life playing James Bond? Hm, tough choice. Jay went to Division and once a month he made a drop which someone picked up. Every few months, Taylor showed up out of nowhere and they would trade information over coffee or dinner in various locations. Nine months passed like that. Jason stopped going home, stopped having meaningless conversations with Kara; Division provided apartments for their agents in training close to the office, so there was no reason to share an icy domicile with his distant mother.
He didn't have a home anymore, just a chance to change the world and an annoying redheaded girl who kept prodding him to try and make a difference.