The papers on the professor’s desk began to stir, though there was no breeze. I didn’t have to look to see which of my classmates was telekinetically rifling through them; I could sense Jacqueline’s nerves and excitement.
“Hey, there’s a bunch of answer sheets,” she said.
One stack scooted itself loose, rolled into a tube, and sped to her desk. She grabbed them and glanced at the door.
“We’ve got at least ten minutes — anybody else want one?”
As an empath, I felt the wave sweep the room — interest, anxiety, mischief — and metaphorically ducked beneath it.
“That’s stupid,” I said. “You’re going to cheat in Ethics of Paranormal Behavior? This test isn’t worth that much. And it’s so cliché.”
“It’s worth a lot to me,” Jacqueline said. “Just ’cause you have a 4.0…”
“Dr. Kim’ll get back anytime. It’s wrong and dumb.”
She stared at me for a moment, and I got a jumble of feelings from her. Confusion, guilt, determination. The papers rose in a lazy spiral, and then flapped like leaves to each desk. Except mine.
“Seriously?” I’d thought better of her — not her morals, but her intelligence.
“Shut it, Deb,” she said. “It’s none of your business.” She turned to her desk and started to fill in answers.
About half the class followed suit, others were still weighing their options.
“But this is so… unnecessary.”
Jacqueline didn’t look up from her paper, but I felt her smirk. It reverberated around the room.
My teeth ground together. “That’s it.”
I stood up and started grabbing answer sheets off people’s desks. Manually. Nobody stopped me, and Marcus collected everyone’s from his corner and handed them to me with a smile. He helped because he had a crush on me, he didn’t give a damn about cheating.
I left Jacqueline her cheat sheet and sat down in a righteous glow.
Two minutes later Ava scooted her chair closer to Jacqueline.
“Can I look?” she whispered. I rolled my eyes. Ava’d probably misunderstood that whole scene; she was an idiot.
Jacqueline grunted and turned the paper so Ava could see it. Her guilt flared, as did Ava’s, but I ignored it. Ava was totally outclassed among our group. She had a middling psychic talent, and way less than middling intelligence.
By the time Dr. Kim got back, Jacqueline had used and returned her answer sheet. Ava was back in her spot.
“Pencils down,” he said, but his emotions were all wrong. My leg jiggled uneasily. Dr. Kim had a secret, he was curious and yet bracing himself…
Our tests rose gracefully into the air, folded themselves once, and stacked themselves neatly. Then they fell in the trashcan.
“For the test today,” he said, “my assistant was Jacqueline. Please tell me, how many of your classmates cheated?”
Oh. Of course this was a test. How did I miss that? Jaqueline was too smart to cheat for no good reason.
No wonder there were so many cheat sheets.
At least I —
A wave of shame hit me in the face.
Ava. If Jacqueline was in on this, Ava was the only cheater, and the force of her chagrin nearly knocked me out of the chair.
I didn’t like Ava, never had, but the strength of her desperation and regret left me physically ill. She was crushed. Already an outsider, already hanging by a thread — her name, alone, on an ethics failure would be the end of her schooling here. I felt it all and writhed.
Could I change this… should I say something? That they all would have cheated if I hadn’t grabbed the tests? That wouldn’t help her, just make everybody hate me. That she wouldn’t have cheated if I’d grabbed Jacqueline’s test? That didn’t help her either.
“It was only me… and Ava,” said Jacqueline, answering Dr. Kim.
Even Jacqueline felt bad for Ava. Really bad, but it was nothing compared to how Ava felt. Ava’s ears were scarlet, like she’d had her head banged in a door.
Dr. Kim looked taken aback, but he went ahead with his lecture, and filled out the ethics report. Ava’s waves crashed over me, and I sat still like a rock. A stupid, sick rock.
And as it turned out, I never saw her again.
“How’s our little legalist?” Dr. Kim asked, walking into the dim conference room, and flipping on the light. “She looked pretty stoic to me.”
The guidance counselor, a full precog and telekine, was slumped back in an armchair, his eyes closed. A file cabinet in the corner was moving, each drawer absently opening and shutting in succession.
The guidance counselor stretched his neck, rubbed his eyes. The top drawer, in the midst of closing, stopped two inches open.
“Oh, she’s feeling it alright,” the counselor told him. “Future’s changing as we speak. These empathic, legalistic types like Deb are easy to break. More or less.”
“What about Ava?” Dr. Kim said.
“What about her? She needed to go. Plus, she cheated.”
“Did you check her future?”
“Yes, of course. Deb was the primary for this exercise, what with the disaster precog, but I’m keeping an eye on contingencies…” He smiled. “If you could only see what Deb will be now. So strong, like a rock.”
Corrie Garrett likes to write young adult science fiction and paranormal stories… particularly ones with an element of manipulation. (‘Cause what’s the fun of anything if you can’t bend others to your will?! She’s just kidding, mostly — that’s what her kids are for.) At the moment, she’s working on the second novel in her Alien Insight series, but sometimes she gets super-bogged down with novel writing, and so takes a break with reading and writing flash fiction. She’s also a Christian, and likes to look at the moral/spiritual implications of certain sci-fi ideas. She thinks faith is a lot more paranormal than we sometimes realize. She says: “Happy reading, y’all. (I’m originally from Texas, so I can say that.)”