Christina M. Simmons
A jumper. Why do I always get the jumpers? Kedi paused only for a moment, looking up, shielding her eyes against the glare of many artificial suns. It would be the tallest building on set, too. Great.
She ducked the scaffolding, swerved around a trundling camera dolly, and slipped sideways through an oblivious crowd of crew grunts, never once breaking stride. The telepathic shriek from one of the lot therapists, amplified by the microprocessors imbedded in her temples, had shattered an hour's worth of deep breathing and virtually destroyed her rapport with the character she was analyzing... but when duty called, it called loudly. Other more appealing commitments be damned, she was owned chain-and-leash by the Cynematic Production Corportion, and knew it.
But honestly, she groused, couldn't any office-bound set shrink could handle a jumper? A security guard could handle one, if it came to that - yank the kid down or push him off, brute strength having its occasional merits. Not that either was the best option, admittedly, and Kedi sighed. A jumper was tricky, not like your run-of-the-lot psychopath. The poor thing usually didn't want to hurt anyone but himself, and could just as easily make like the birdies by the time "help" reached him.
And dealing with jumpers was why the Cyn had taken her on, after all - she was the best in her class, barely needing the amplifiers to make solid mind-to-mind contact, and, for some reason, 'chute-free skydiving was the favored method of attempted suicide among actors. It was all in the books - athletes shot themselves, business executives hung, blue collars pilled or drank themselves in, and actors jumped.
"Who's the client?" she asked without preamble, barging into the heart of the first crowd of worried faces she saw. Eyes turned down to find her, and Kedi bit down on the irritation that rose at the surprised eyebrows arching skyward and the unmuffled thoughts intruding on her own: young - who's the kid? - mousy li'l thing - who let the groupie on the set? Drawing herself up to her entirely unimpressive height of five-foot-two, she narrowed her brown eyes and drew a mental bead on the fellow radiating the most authority.
"Somebody screamed for a Seeker. I'm here." She punctuated each phrase with a mental "nudge," I've-got-better-things-to-do-so-quit-wasting-my-time, and abruptly the thought-auras about her shifted to relief. Satisfied, she eased up. "I'd appreciate knowing who I'm chasing before I climb onto a ledge with him. Can I get a name and a personal history?"
The nervous glances sent the message of she-doesn't-know even faster than the coherent thoughts. A short man, apparently the set counselor, passed her a datapad. Kedi didn't even need to finish scanning it before turning back to the expectant gazes.
"A multiple." she said with a resinged sigh. "Wonderful." Without a backwards glance, she made tracks for the nearest “up” elevator.
It was odd how things cycled in Hollywood - not two decades ago, the concept of a "multiple" being an actor - or most anything else - was almost unheard-of. Societal norms dictated that, should a person be unfortunate enough to be afflicted with such a mental condition, said person should, out of decency, keep quiet about the situation.
But back then, of course, the only multiples many people had the opportunity to meet were those wretched souls created by intense trauma and human cruelty, lost among their many selves until they could no longer even fabricate a mask of "normality." They’d wind up on some afternoon scream-instead-of-talk show, grasp their flickering moment of fame, and… vanish again. The sobbing, brutalized victim became the face of the multiple, for better or for worse, when it had a face at all. Society gave its multiples sympathy for half an hour… then turned its face away.
Until someone realized that the proverbial cloud might actually have a silver lining… and made the concept of multiple personalities profitable.
And it could only happen in Hollywood.
You take one multiple who’s got her head on straight, Kedi thought. Grace her with a modicum of acting ability…and bingo, instant millionaire. Half a troop of actors for the price of one. And suddenly, every director’s got to find himself a multiple.
The only problem was, of course, supply and demand. There simply weren’t enough talented multiples around to fill Hollywood’s newest must-have.
But there were enough money-grubbing ethically-challenged psychologists around… and enough starving actors willing to do anything – ANYTHING – to get their foot in the door. You’d think people would have learned by now about mixing fire and gasoline…Whatever happened to ‘First, do no harm?’
It had been a win-win situation for everyone, though… at first. Actors with compatible psychological dispositions took the old immersion method of acting to a new level: psy-splintering. Why simply act a character when, with little more work, one could create an entirely new persona as an extension of the self? Training and reinforcement therapy kept the multiplied personalities in check, and where training faltered, Seekers were brought in.
The film industry’s newest crew members. Kedi sank back against the elevator’s stainless steel wall, closing her eyes, trying to center herself to the task at hand. Hooray for Hollywood. She knew what would be waiting for her as soon as the doors opened…
Lights… camera… cue the Seeker. It was more than her job now… it was her life. From the moment telepathy had been identified as a means for communicating directly with a multiple’s many selves, every psi-gifted Seeker-wannabe had skeedaddled for the West Coast as soon as life or luck allowed. There were training facilities, too – college programs, sixth-year courses, for those who could afford to be patient.
Sometimes, patience paid off. Those with enough talent in their field, or enough connections, would go on to become right-hand assistants to producers, directors, and the shining stars of the entertainment industry. It was the dream of a lifetime: serving as personal liasion between an actor’s multiplied personalities and the outside world. Spokesperson, agent, counselor, confidante… all this and more, and a pretty salary along with it. The dream wasn’t far from the reality; a personal one-to-one Seeker was closer than family to his client, and the bond was lifelong, intimate, and very, very lucrative.
But one-to-one was the ideal, not the norm. Nobody bothered to tell starry-eyed neophytes about things like a hyper-competitive market, and paying your dues.
Or paying your bills. Kedi cursed inwardly, willing the elevator to move faster. She'd had enough natural telepathic and empathic ability combined to move her straight into the Yale fast track after high school... but not enough money to pay for it after graduation. In a flooded market, Yale Seekers were a dime a dozen, but nobody had bothered to tell the bumper crop of graduates that.
The Cyn's offer had sounded appealing at that point: a few years of on-lot work coupled with a generous stipend, housing provided, in exchange for tuition reimbursement. It was every Seeker's dream, the Cyn recruiter had said - the chance to make valuable connections, to get that foot in the door... how many other Seekers with one-to-one contracts had gotten their start that way?
For the first few months Kedi had been hopeful. Starting at the bottom, working as a gopher-secretary, wasn't all that bad; reading scripts for empathetic content, seeing which characters could tug at an audience's heart the most, was actually enjoyable, and a Seeker's opinions were always sought-after. Acting as a emotional barometer grew trying after a while; she hated seeing people cringe when she entered a room, knowing exactly why she was there, and she hated "picking" psychic auras to determine which producer could be hit for a pitch session, which actor would be most receptive to a new agent... but that was part of the job.
And it wasn't the worst.
The endless hours spent with mental shields entirely down gave her splitting migrane headaches - emotions and thoughts were always loud on the production lot, and no telebuffer chips could screen every thought entirely to filter out the ugliest. And the crisis situations - at least, what constituted “crisis” to a director – were almost unbearable at the worst of times, and universally dissatisfying: coddling bruised egos, "warming up" two feuding co-stars, inhibiting budding sexual attractions. The dirty work. As a rule, none of this made her a popular person… and she knew it better than anyone.
And the multiples, when she hit them, were often the worst of the lot.
The elevator finally shuddered to a halt, and Kedi opened her eyes and cleared her mind. Lights, camera… action.
Stepping out onto the roof of the building, Kedi prayed that this one would be an easy talker. It was always less draining when she didn't have to fight mental shields and fish for the right thing to say. Moving carefully around the corner, she paused. She could see him clearly… his back to her, his shoulders hunched. Typical jumper. As she watched, the shoulders twitched. Typical multiple. She could imagine the chaos in the poor bastard’s head right now… she eased up behind him, steps slow, measured.
"So... who are we today?" She tried to speak easily, casually, but wide brown eyes turned on her sharply and he jumped, skittered on the ledge. Kedi cursed inwardly, and froze.
He was a young man with a tousled crop of brown hair and a Hollywood tan. Steven Daniel Patterson, his name was… but that was the host name, and she didn’t know who was in charge at the moment. The datapad had identified at least five multiples in there. Every muscle in his body was tensed to the point of trembling as he wavered on the ledge.
"Relax. You should know that when you climb onto a ledge that you're going to attract somebody's attention." She projected a misty aura of amusement and reassurance, but kept her mental shields up.
"You're a Seeker."
"And you're perceptive." She smiled. “Want to tell me what the problem is?”
(c) Christina M. Simmons, 1999