Cameras click, click, click-ed.
“I’d like to take the time to walk you through the agreement that we signed this morning. Please save your questions until the very end, when we’ll have a few moments to address them.” She took a breath, shuffling her papers. “The four peacekeeping zones we established will remain in place for the next four years. Reconstruction in cities and towns that were decimated by this struggle, or by natural disasters for which the government failed to provide aid, will be handled by the peacekeeping coalition of countries in each zone, the details of which will be covered in subsequent, separate press conferences.”
She let the audience absorb that before continuing. “Each zone will also be responsible for overseeing the neutralization of Agent Ambrosia in groundwater and wells found within its boundaries, as well as the destruction of any stockpiles of the chemical. Any further use of it throughout the world, as well as any use of Psi-afflicted youth as soldiers, clandestine agents, or government officials in this nation or others is explicitly forbidden by this agreement, and will be condemned.”
Lillian’s eyes scanned the room, almost catching mine. She sat up a little straighter, and looked pained, clearly knowing what was coming next.
“Children remaining in rehabilitation camps will be returned to their families over the course of the next month. We will be providing a searchable database to locate where each child is currently residing, but parents will not be allowed access to the camps. As part of our agreement, they will be destroyed.”
Shock hit me like a blow to the face. The room began to rumble with voices—low conversations, shouted questions, everything in between. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Grams trying to gauge my reaction, but I couldn’t bring myself to tear my eyes from the stage.
“The life-saving operation developed by Dr. Lillian Gray will be provided, free of charge, for as long as this terrible mutation exists in our society. Any Psi-afflicted person over the age of eighteen will be allowed to decide whether to opt out of the surgery, but will be required to carry special identification. Whether or not a child under the age of eighteen receives the treatment will be left to the discretion of their parents or guardians.”
Lillian’s eyes fell back to the table.
“We have set aside several miles of land on which to build a community for any unclaimed child, or any child who feels as though they cannot return home safely. We will require that all Psi-afflicted citizens who choose not to undergo the procedure live out the remainder of their lives in one of these communities.”
I must have made some noise of disgust, because my family turned to look at me.
At that same moment someone on the stage let out a low, furious, “That is bullshit.”
And that someone was Chubs.
“Hold your tongue—” One of the men in uniforms was on the receiving end of a glare that would have melted a lesser man into a quivering puddle. Cate looked down at the table, biting her lip in an effort to hide her smile.
Senator Cruz coughed, shuffling her papers. Before she could begin speaking again, Chubs was already midway into his next sentence.
“Let’s lay this out fully, shall we?” he began.
“Oh Jesus,” Liam said, looking upward for strength.
“As an eighteen-year-old,” Chubs said, “I finally have the right to choose what I want for myself, but, if I make the wrong choice, I’ll still be punished for it?”
“Please save your questions for the end.” But even as she said it, Senator Cruz made a small, almost imperceptible motion with her hands, as if to encourage him.
“I’m not finished,” Chubs said. “If I were to choose to not have someone, potentially an incompetent someone, cut into my brain—the most important organ in my body—to ‘fix’ it, then I’m stuck in yet another camp, this time for the rest of my life?”
“Oh, I like him,” Grams said, delighted.
“It’s not a camp,” one of the men in uniform said impatiently. “It’s a community. Now can we move back to—”
“A community with barbed-wire fences? Armed guards? You realize that by doing this, all you’re accomplishing is reinforcing in America—throughout the world—that the word different means bad, ugly, dangerous. There’s no rehabilitation in that; you just want to sweep us under the rug and hope time takes care of us. I’m sorry, but that’s pretty damned terrible, and clearly you know it’s pretty damned terrible, because you’ve spent a total of two seconds laying out a plan that affects thousands of lives which have already been ruined by another group of people—some of them probably in this room.”
“Psi-afflicted humans have abilities that are dangerous and cannot be controlled,” the man reasoned. “They can be used as tools for individuals to commit crimes, gain unfair advantages, and harm others.”
“Yeah? So can a pile of money. It’s what a person chooses to do with their abilities that matters. By locking someone up for making a choice about their body that they have every right to make, what you’re essentially saying is that, no, you don’t trust us. Not to make good choices, not to treat others well. I find that incredibly insulting—and, by the way, I seem to be in pretty good control of my abilities now, wouldn’t you say?”
“You believe children as young as eight, nine, ten, should be allowed to make a life-altering decision?” Senator Cruz was feeding him a counterargument to play off of—I sat back slightly, relieved my opinion of her hadn’t been far off-base. She might have been overruled by the panel she sat with now, but she had found a creative way of getting her point across.