"Raina? Raina, can you hear me?" she heard Cordelia calling out.
As Raina expected, she could only take in Cordelia's anxious voice, without seeing the fear in her eyes which she'd noticed during that first time she gained sight, a sign that this vision hadn't managed to change her senses or abilities.
"Y-Yes, Cordelia. I can hear you now," she managed to say.
She could feel the hard wood of the chair she'd been sitting in, running her hands through the bars surrounding her back twice to be sure she was still seated. In that case, she hadn't fallen over during her vision or been carried off by either Cordelia or Newman, which she saw as good news.
Cordelia sighed in relief. "At least now we know you're with us. How are you feeling? Are you dizzy or in pain?"
"No. I'm just feeling a little disoriented."
"That's good. Uncle Derek and I worried you could have been much worse off."
"I don't think it's been any worse than my past visions. Although now, I think I may have seen something that already happened to someone."
"Really? Do you know who that person was?"
Raina was interrupted from speaking as she heard Dr. Newman's footsteps coming closer towards her and Cordelia. "Did you manage to get Raina up again?" he asked his niece.
"I did, Uncle Derek," Cordelia said. "She's been letting me know how she's been feeling and what kind of vision she was having."
Newman took a hold of Raina's hand. "Is everything all right now, Raina?" he asked.
"Yes. I've had no side effects from the episode so far, and I'm quite comfortable with talking to Cordelia," Raina answered.
"And is it true that you had a vision during your episode?" He sounded calm as he asked this; in a way, he was acting just as he did when he was a schoolboy and speaking to his class on subject matter that was probably too complex for children to understand.
"Yes, I did. In that vision, I saw you during your primary school days."
Silence followed. Raina had no doubt this reminder of his past would not be a pleasant thing for him to recall. After a while, he said, "What did you notice to be going on in this vision you had of me?"
"Your teacher, Ms. Anders, was asking the class what they recalled from the lesson of the day before. Both you and this girl named Margaret answered, but while you did well, Margaret didn't and ended up losing competence points which everyone in class received."
"I remember that day perfectly well, Raina," Newman said, sounding deeply reflective. "Seeing the way Anders was treating Margaret was so awful for me to witness that I felt I just had to speak up next to avoid going through the same thing as she did. And I turned out getting points for my response, just as I wanted, while poor Margaret ended up losing points."
"And did you feel bad about that?"
"For a while, all I felt was relief. Relief that I didn't have to be humiliated in front of the whole class, relief that Ms. Anders wasn't going to look down on me for the rest of the day, relief that I didn't have to face an abundance of questions from my parents that night after they had gotten my competence points for the day sent over to them…"
"They send these scores to your parents?"
"Back then, parents got daily updates from teachers through emails, which included a summary of the lesson for the day as well as the student's competence scores. This was to ensure that all parents were aware of their child's intellectual growth for the day, since as far as educators were concerned, every little action kids took part in showed how much intelligence they were either gaining or losing."
Raina then heard glass being set down on the table. Spreading her fingers through the glass, she noticed that it was a cup of water. "Drink up if you want to," she heard Cordelia say, and so she did, taking three large gulps of the liquid. Having water always helped her feel a little calmer, much more so than coffee or soft drinks ever did, and that was probably one of the only health precautions which she agreed to be true.
"Ready to go on with the discussion, Raina?" Dr. Newman asked.
"Okay," Raina answered.
"Did you see what happened after that recap?"
Raina described the video the class was watching, and how young Newman had once again spoken up, despite not being able to see his teacher's full response to him.
"You're right again," Newman said once she was done. "And just like with what happened to Margaret earlier, I didn't ask so much out of sympathy for the boy as for wanting to know what the response was to his behavior. Hearing that it didn't matter because all teachers in those days went through the same thing didn't answer any of my questions. We often witness similar scenarios which get resolved in different ways; something which I believe many teachers in Elms are either unaware of or openly choose to ignore when it comes to their understanding of educators in the past."
"And what happened when you brought these questions up?"
Newman let out a brief chuckle. "Luckily, Ms. Anders didn't choose to punish me too harshly. She scolded me for going too far with my questions, but she also said that it's quite normal to be wondering about those sorts of things at our age."
Raina was almost disappointed he didn't go through some humiliating disgrace. Maybe then this little scenario she'd witnessed though her vision would have had a more exciting ending. But then again, most school days weren't supposed to end so dramatically, as she knew all too well from Melanie's school stories.
"Is there anything else you want to know?" Newman asked, placing his palm around Raina's arm.
And so, Raina now asked the question which had been on her mind this whole time: "Did you start changing your mind about the disabled after that day?"
Newman let out a long sigh. "It took a while for me to do that, Raina. Changing your views over things like this don't just happen overnight; you start becoming slowly aware of it based on your observations of those who are trying to spread those harmful ideas, or by coming across those you're being taught to fear or hate. I didn't come home from school that day with a sudden empathy for the incompetent, I came home relieved that I hadn't lost any competence points. I remember my sister Elaine, who was two years younger than I was, bragging at dinner over how she'd gotten over thirty-five competence points, and her asking me if I'd done anything close to that. I told her the truth, that I'd gotten just twenty-one, but that I didn't lose any points at all, not even for bad posture. Our parents were thrilled with Elaine, allowing her an extra half hour of time on her tablet as a reward. But they mocked me, telling me that I ought to be embarrassed over how my younger sister was doing better than I was. My father said I had little chance of becoming a professional with that sort of work ethic, while my mother scorned me for my laziness, telling me that her coworkers' three sons, who were said to not have nearly as much potential as I did through their competence testing, were all somehow doing better than I was in all areas. My parents were both engineers, and I was the only son amongst four children, so you can probably imagine how much pressure I was under.
"But when I went to bed that night, I wasn't thinking so much about my parent's criticism as how humiliated Margaret had gotten. She was one of those kids who was always trying to be amongst the best in our class, but who didn't have all it took to get there. Her grades were always average, as was her compliance with classroom rules. However, when it came to social behavior, she tended to be a little off at times, not able to read hidden social cues or show enough charm when we were given recreational time. Some kids would joke that she acted autistic, and she was well -aware of this, which only made her more nervous and determined to prove everyone wrong. And as I thought about this, I started feeling bad for her. I wanted to apologize, or maybe just say a word to her during lunch to let her know at least someone was willing to be kind to her."
"Did you end up doing any of that?" Raina asked.
"During our recreational time the next day, I told her felt bad about what happened to her yesterday, and she just smiled and said she felt better about it now. Everyone was going to lose competence points at some point, and there were much more worst ways she could have lost them. She was just going to remember her mistake for now on and make sure she avoided bringing up any unnecessary information when she answered questions. It was as simple as that, so I had no reason for feeling guilty for something she'd brought on herself. I didn't know whether she was really taking it that easily or if she was still trying to hide her shame, but I did my best not to bring it up again, figuring this would only further complicate matters."
"Do you know what happened to her afterwards?"
"We were in separate classes for the rest of primary school, so I only occasionally met up with her during those years. Once it came time for academy placement, I was placed in the exceptional track while Margaret got the academy for the average. She spoke with me about it two days after our primary school graduation, confiding how she'd been extremely disappointed at first because her parents had wanted her to enter into the computer programming field, but now that all was said and done with primary school, she didn't feel too bad about it. She planned to go into the primary level teaching program, which is still open to those in the average track, and through several other meetings we've had over the years, I learned that she did just as she'd planned, and she now teaches at our old school, having married and had four children, so she's had quite a normal life as far as I'm aware of."
Raina was glad to hear this. Part of her worried that this girl would have ended up in a sanitarium, as Isabella said was often the fate of those who tried going above the limits of their competence levels (and which many claimed was the main reason behind the large suicide rates during the age of radical opportunity), but it looked like Margaret had somehow gotten over this and did well despite her wishes to do more. Of course, there was always the chance that such adults were secretly unhappy over not achieving as much as their peers, which seemed almost as bad to certain competent citizens, but was much preferable to losing your mind over your lack of achievement.
She took a couple sips of her water, feeling Newman and Cordelia probably had much more to tell her. The two of them were going over their observations of her, keeping their voices down so she wouldn't have to hear, which annoyed her. If they have anything bad to say about how I'm doing, why can't they just tell me face to face instead of staying all secretive? I already know a little too much about my condition, so what's the point of hiding things from me? The only reason she didn't speak up was because she figured they were still overwhelmed from witnessing one of her episodes and therefore couldn't handle it if she were to get aggressive towards them. They may be doing things that bothered her, but that didn't mean she wasn't grateful for all the help they'd been giving her.
With that in mind, she waited until she felt Cordelia's smooth hands holding her own. "Raina, there's something else we should tell you," she said.
"What is it?"
"Since you've been going through these episodes two times already while performing, we're worried that this might continue during your first weeks of readjustment. This could mean it won't be over by the time your concert's scheduled. Because of that, it might be best…"
"No," Raina protested before Cordelia could continue. "No, Cordelia! Don't you even think about canceling the concert! I've been working way too hard to give it up all that easily."
"I don't want to cancel your contest, love. What I think is that we should postpone it for another two months. Since Melanie's busy with her preparations for graduation, I figured Isabella wouldn't mind putting off your own plans for a time that's more convenient for everyone. You could enjoy Melanie's special moments first, and then have your own event all to yourself. Everyone wins."
"But you saw for yourself how difficult it is to book these sorts of events. Isabella had to postpone a talk from a major physicist and a promotion for a new computer brand to get me a set date at the Elms Central Stadium, which was enough to upset a ton of people. She would flip out if she had to change plans once again."
Cordelia couldn't argue with this. Everyone in Elms loved those science and technology presentations, and considered the occasional fine arts performances given at the stadium to be far inferior in comparison. If a biologist wanting to share a new discovery on yet another commonly eaten food that had poisonous effects on a person's health and an actor from a popular Videx series both made requests for a presentation around the same time, the biologist was usually put at the top of the waiting list, forcing the actor to wait as long as four months for their own live event.
"Raina, perhaps Isabella could make a compromise, promising the scientists a public appearance during one of the fall holidays, where they would attract more people than they would on some uneventful day in August, allowing you to book your event not too far into the future. After all, anything the governor requests is usually given top prioritization, even if it conflicts with other reputable people's requests. If she got it done the first time around with the physicist, she might pull it off again if she has a reasonable enough excuse."
Raina couldn't think of what to say. Who knew what would happen by August? Perhaps her powers might become more stable by then, but there was as much chance that they'd start getting twice as uncontrollable as they currently were. Or perhaps Isabella would decide she'd had enough of Raina getting into so much trouble and postpone any future opportunities to showcase her talents to the public, or she could put a stop to her music lessons with Cordelia because of how she'd been complacent in this current series of events without letting Isabella on what Raina was going through. There was no telling what could happen next anymore.
And suddenly, that part of her that could no longer tolerate other people controlling her started to awaken once again, and Raina said in the sharpest tone she could manage, "I'm not going to let you cancel the concert, Cordelia! If you even attempt to do it, then I'll run away from all of you, from the Powell's, from Dr. Newman's group, perhaps even from Elms, if I can somehow do it. I'm sick and tired of other people deciding what's best for me, so if any of you want to go on being difficult with me, just know that I'm not going to be listening anymore!"
Cordelia turned pale. She couldn't remember the last time Raina had raised her voice at her. What was going on with her? Was this a consequence of her powers? Were these changes she was going though increasing her aggressive tendencies? Or was this a more conscious rebellion which Raina was taking part in, being the consequence of years of having to put up with other people telling her what she should do and what her limitations were?
Looking up from his paperwork, Dr. Newman realized this wasn't going as smoothly as he hoped it would. With years of experience with other readjusters kicking into practice, he calmly strode over to Raina's side, held her hand, and said, "Raina, settle down. Try giving some thought into how Cordelia must be feeling. We've both witnessed what you're going through, and neither one of us want anything bad happening to you, which is why we're suggesting these changes in the first place. Given how much you've been affected by your powers, don't you think it'd be wise to take our advice and step back a little before doing anything major?"
Her face flushed with anger, Raina said, "Dr. Newman, I don't want you or Cordelia trying to make choices for me! If you really want readjusters to be as independent as possible, at least think about what it would mean to me to have to give up something I worked so hard towards for years. After listening to other people boss me around my whole life, I want this to be the first major decision I make on my own, and there's nothing you can say that will make me change my mind."
"Please try to be reasonable, Raina," Newman said. "Do you want to experience another episode again? The only reason we're suggesting you put this off is because we're considered about your well-being. All readjusters must learn to put their health and safety first to become fully accustomed to their new abilities. Otherwise, these first months could become very overwhelming for you."
"There must be something I can do," Raina said. "Yesterday, Quinten was teaching me how to calm myself down after I lashed out at Melanie. Is there a chance I could do something like that to control my powers? I could even have Quinten, Colleen, and Rodney by my side during practice if that could help make things any easier for me. I'll do anything as long as you don't make me give up right away."
Newman sighed and thought over what Raina was suggesting. Although he had doubts over how successful any attempts at controlling her powers would be at this stage, he figured perhaps it wouldn't hurt for her to try learning ways to do this. And since it was all still a month away, he could give her at least two weeks to test this out so they could make a final decision over whether she should still hold her concert.
Turning back to Raina, he said, "All right, Raina, here's what I'll agree to. For two weeks, you try these self-control methods when practicing your music. I'll have one of the others sit as you practice so they can keep an eye on you and assist you if anything goes wrong. Once those two weeks are done, we'll go over your progress. If you've managed to gain more control of your powers, you can still have your concert. If not, we'll have to postpone it all to another time. Is that okay with you?"
Raina still couldn't stand the thought of not having her concert, but she was starting to understand why Newman and Cordelia were so concerned. She had no doubt if Quinten, Colleen, or Rodney ever went this, she'd want to take several precautions to keep them safe too, even if such precautions wouldn't have included making them give up on something they'd been anticipating for far too long. And so, she figured it wouldn't help to agree to a compromise. After all, she was going to try her hardest to put the self-control methods Quinten had taught her to good use, which she hoped would make the chances of having to give up far less likely. She didn't even want to consider the possibility of it all failing.
"Okay, Dr. Newman. I agree," she said.
Newman smiled. "Good to see that you're willing to compromise, Raina. I sincerely hope your efforts are successful. I think it would disappoint me just as much as Cordelia to see this all fail."
"And I'll still work with you whenever I can," Cordelia said. "I need to make sure you remain as splendid through your music as you've always been."
"So, I'm guessing this means testing is over for now?" Raina asked.
"I've got all I need to know, Raina. A little more may have been helpful, but I prefer to take things as easily possible for now," Newman said.
Hearing their support was a major relief to Raina, although she wondered if things would stay this way if her first attempts at control were less than perfect.