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Detractive Impulses

          My Profile was clean because the juvenile records were sealed, not because I was never disciplined in school.

          I was passive and compliant enough, but I couldn’t read minds like everybody else seemed to be able to do. It was hard, sometimes, to anticipate what they wanted. It was hard to choose language intentionally. It was hard to avoid pissing off the Educators.

          “Now then,” said Jordan, passing around small squares of synth-paper.

          “As I taught the class last period, everyone has Detractive impulses. For this exercise, you are going to think of a Detractive impulse that you’ve had and write it down on this piece of paper that I am giving you.”

          I stared at the paper. I twirled my pen, but my mind was as blank as the sheet. I always wanted to do what I was told. Surely that had to count for something. It wasn’t like I’d never done anything wrong in my life, but it didn’t feel right to name any of the incidents. Letting go of my mother’s hand and running off in the Sublevels – daydreaming in class –none of that was motivated by Detractiveness. Not as he’d described it yesterday.

          Maybe I just didn’t understand what a Detractive impulse was. Maybe if I had a few examples

          “You haven’t written anything,” said Jordan, walking by my desk.

          “I don’t… understand,” I ventured.

          “What’s not to understand? Just write down a Detractive impulse that you have. Any one will do.”

          “What if I don’t have any?”

          “You do,” he said firmly. “Everyone does.”

          I put my pencil to the paper, but I felt paralyzed. I was afraid of delaying any longer, afraid of resisting him, but I was also afraid that my answer wasn’t going to be good enough and he’d accuse me of avoiding the question.

          “B…but what if I don’t? I can’t think of anything.”

          He put his finger on my paper square. “Contradicting your Educator is a Detractive impulse. Write that down.”

 

          ***

 

          I was the last one to turn in my paper. Jordan collected them all, shuffled them, and then to most of the students’ dismay, he started pinning them up on the board in front of the class.

          We didn’t know whose was whose (except for mine, of course) but it was clear that most weren’t meant to be seen. It didn’t matter to Jordan.

          “Now you see, kids.” He waved at the papers, and read off a few. “I want to eat too much dessert— there you go—I want to go outside— there’s a good one. Or a bad one, should I say. Some of you have got the point of this more than others.”

          He turned back to the class. “I think I’ve proved my point. Every one of you has Detractive impulses. But these are things that, with training, you can learn to curb. To change the way that you act, speak, and even think.”

          I couldn’t contradict him, because it was then that I understood the purpose of the assignment. The Settlement could see guilt within us, even if we ourselves could not see it. As such, it was up to the Settlement to decide whether to absolve, or to condemn.


Next Chapter: I Don’t Want to Shoot You