Cut from Cracked Ice
by Jared W. Cooper
"Renei," Lindie says, across the room. "You didn't answer me."
We've lapsed into silence again. I hear her frustrated sigh, then the clatter of pans, the
click of the stove. I turn my mind to recall what she asked.
You'll be there for graduation, right?
In response, my psionics ignite the image from my own graduation. I'm eighteen, beneath
the holograms and lights, my voice projecting over rows of family and friends. I talk about the
world I'll make with my Theory. This piece of my mind is a glint of light, a crystal face in the
mirror of my memory. I see it unblemished, until it's not, because I look down and see Mom, and
everything that happened, and keeps happening--
"Of course I'll be there," I say.
I'm twenty-two, and Lindie's couch is home since leaving mine--again. I listen to her
hands, cracking lettuce, dropping ice in glasses. Hands that already know my body so well, know
how to knead out the tension and start that slow fire.
Tomorrow, Lindie will be psychic. She's as ready for it as I was at her age. Eager to share
another person's mind and body. But I was never that confident. I just wanted the amplified sex,
the doubled intoxication without the hangover. Tomorrow, she'll unfold beneath me, and push us
to move from an illicit secret to an open heart.
Grow up, Renei.
Mother's voice, reminding me. Tomorrow, it will end.
But tonight, Lindie smiles. Silverware clinks on the table like punctuation, like everything
I'm eighteen, and the many-faced crystal that is the mirror of my memory is about to
Jacksen's mind latches onto mine before I see him on the street. The heat of his want
floods my proprioception; I stagger and laugh, and before I recover, he's there, pinning me to the
wall. I feel the way my own skin feels on his hands beneath my shirt, grazing my bra.
Life with your Theory is transcendent, our professors said. You are your own person, one
among the community of minds that makes up the adult psychic world. Mental agonies in the
past four years of academia become worth it, and your view of the world sharpens, solidifies. The
minds you encounter will hone your beliefs, challenging and shaping them. Ultimately, this will
anchor your view of yourself.
Jacksen isn't quite here for that.
He takes me to his place, and we're high with anticipation, so proud of ourselves for
being adults, and by the time I'm in his bed and we're naked, I realize I've left my mind linked to
his, which means amplified senses and he's just so damned eager--and it's over.
I stroke his hair and tell him it's not his fault, it was fine, it's probably like that for
everyone. He chuckles, and, because he's my closest friend from school, we try again.
He tries to kiss me, after. I lean away, and he gets the side of my jaw. So simple a motion,
like a reflex. I'm not in love with him. Which I knew, but it wasn't crystal until now.
I can look over this memory and my heart aches with that bitter warmth, because he's
actually amazing about the whole thing. He felt it, being with me, that something in our grammar
wasn't right, but he treasures it. He says--will say, when I bring it up later--that he wouldn't
trade any part of that moment for anything.
This is not the crack. The crack comes after, when I'm home with this glow in my chest,
and the memory is still perfect. And Mom's there.
Lady Milani Avelle, Lead Social Prognostic of Central Neuronics. A woman with no
psionics and no Theory, worn thin by a career among psychics. Sitting at the kitchen table in the
dark, reading her datapad.
I know what her disorder can do to her. The doctors tell me I should be nice no matter
what, act like her behavior is always normal, even when it's not. When your mother is bipolar,
you never know who you'll find waiting at home; and by this point in my life, I've fought with her
enough to feel prepared. But I'm always ready to be surprised.
"How was it?" she asks.
"What?" I pause. "With Jacksen, you mean? I was . . ."
She smiles, but it's cold and thin. "I'm looking at your transcript." I can tell she's bringing
it up on the screen. "Perfect attendance. Formidable psionics. Passable eidetics." She scrolls
through a digital summary of my life, in a tone she might use at the office. "It's funny, though.
Ice. Why ice?"
"You mean my Theory." I'd rather fight, at this point. The honest answer will just drive a
deeper knife between us.
"People will think it's strange, is all," she says. "Cryokinesis is rare for a reason. What
are the practical benefits of manifesting cold? Making an ice rink in the kitchen? But then, I
guess it does fit. You've always been so closed-off from me."
"It's my choice," I say. "No one will care what my Theory is, once I get a job."
She shakes her head. "I work with psychics every day, honey. Your Theory and your
reputation are the same thing in this city. They take on lives of their own, based on your actions,
on how you push against the world pushing on you. It's not just your job. Who you see, who
you--." She doesn't say 'sleep with,' but I realize how much she wants to. "It matters--to you,
definitely to me, what Renei of House Avelle chooses as her power. You don't control what
people make of you."
"Why should I care?" I ask.
Her scowl is frighteningly deep, like coming from a stranger. I grew up knowing she was
bipolar, but it's not until this moment, my first day as a certified psychic, that I look into her and
realize she's scared. She thinks I'll make her obsolete. She worries I might outthink her, the way
even her nonpsychic coworkers do.
I see her at her desk, tearing her hair out, pouring everything into fixing the city's
immigration problems, its declining birthrates, its strained resources for mental illness. Mental
illnesses, she thinks, like her own. Like maybe her daughter's. She pitches her proposals to
management, and they bat her ideas around, and she knows they're going to reject her--
And I don't even realize I'm reading her mind. I clutch my head, wince. I look at her, and
she knows I was digging around in there. To read someone's mind without permission, especially
a psychic reading a nonpsychic, is such a violation, even among family. I don't have to imagine
how often she's dealt with it, with no defense, at the office. But until now, she's never had to fear
it from me.
"My own daughter," she says, in a tone I will never forget, a tone I've always associated
with the unbalanced part of her, that now belongs to a weapon drawn and speared right through
I feel the ice in me, building. The 'kinesis powered by my Theory, now so perfect and
sharp. If I want I can make that ice rink, but I just feel cold. "Mom. I didn't mean--"
"Enough," meaning the conversation, meaning us.
I know Lindie's been thinking it all evening. It doesn't make it easier to hear.
"So. I looked up your Theory yesterday."
I don't read my lovers' minds, as a rule. Even with permission, it's too easy to trip over
something they didn't know they had to guard. In twenty hours, Lindie will publish her own
Theory, the Queen will declare her certified, and we'll be able to slip in and out of one another's
thoughts. I've done it before. We'll set boundaries about what to explore, and maybe this will be
fun, this discovery of ourselves. And we'll realize the perks of the shared mind, and we'll wonder
how we could have lived before.
But when she mentions my Theory, I want to rip into her. Tear through her weak,
adolescent mental layers and claw into her brain.
I don't. It's illegal, and probably also wrong. My pause is the sigh before an avalanche.
Lindie winces. "I should have asked. Shit, Ren, I'm sorry--"
"It's fine," I say, forcing a light tone. "They're published in the archives, so it's not like
you broke the law. You just surprised me."
"It's just that you don't talk about it," she says. "No one does." This is what's actually
bothering her, and I give her that one sliver of sympathy in my eyes. "Like, I've spent years on
my Theory, right? Interviewing people, and collecting data on the nature of empathy. I've got all
this stuff on how our culture gets more mentally homogenized as it pressures the nobility to focus
on status and propriety. But none of it works unless I talk to people about it. And when I do,
they're like, great! Good luck! And that's it." She bites her lip, sighs. "This one paper will define
my powers, Ren. I just thought I'd take a look at yours. As a reference."
I try a deflecting smile. "Honey, I'm not a good reference for adulthood."
She doesn't bite. "If everyone says that, then why are we crafting Theories in the first
I have to laugh. "Seriously, though. Crafting your Theory is a deeply personal process.
It's also unique to you. Plus, the faculty don't want you to get false expectations, or color your
Theory with someone else's."
I add to this the gentlest mental push: my voice is sufficiently authoritative, and Lindie
looks at me like I know what I'm talking about. But I can't manipulate her mind, and as soon as I
drop the influence, I see the seeds of curiosity growing again as we keep eating.
I've always envisioned my mental wards like sheets of ice. The things I keep from Lindie
cast a thick fog over the things I leave open. If she sees even a reflection of the real me, our
relationship will die.
"Does it change?" she asks in the silence that grows between us.
I gather up my dishes and walk to the sink. And, because I like showing off, I float hers to
the sink with TK.
There is no cryokinesis, like there was before. That's gone, since the teacup, the frozen
lips. Since my own Theory became the one anyone can read in the archives. Now there is only
the mundane floating of objects across rooms.
"Renei, come on. Does your Theory change?"
Mother's voice answers her, in my own head.
Grow up, Renei.
"Good Theories are built to withstand change," I say, echoing one of my professors.
Memories are just recursions. Are, in fact, memories of memories. Each time you take
them out, you polish them against the last time you recalled them, challenging their authenticity
with your current self. What you do with them depends on the person you've become.
I'm twenty-one and working at Central Neuronics. All Minds For One, they say, and
they're the only corporation that didn't require six years work experience after graduation. I work
six floors under my mother, in a completely unrelated department, and still I feel her presence,
like she's the psychic one. Her name sifts down to my floor. Ruthless Milani, who does twice the
work of a psychic for half the pay. Crazy Milani, whose husband died of an aneurysm, and she
was working rush so she couldn't go home.
Five months into the job, I present my project for making the city better, based on my
Theory. A Need for Ice: reduce flooding in the settlements south of the fjords. Use the
unyielding, creeping ice sheets that get wider and colder every year, and bring this water into the
city as one salve for the growing population problem. I outline the tech involved, and the
companies that would be onboard. Friends' startups, and noble houses allied with House Avelle.
I've done the math. I've had the numbers ready for years. It would save lives.
"Plus," I throw in, "artificial ice sheets in the city will mean cheap air conditioning for the
rich. Pitch it as a charity project, and now we've got skating rinks, we've got parks, we've got the
landed nobility paying attention to the fact that we have an icing problem." Pause for a laugh.
I feel their quiet agreement, their appreciation for my enthusiasm. But I know the idea
doesn't quite stick. I'm too new to their game. I also know what sits in their surface thoughts,
above all else: I am Milani Avelle's daughter. The bipolar woman's offspring.
One of them speaks to me, later that day. A manager. Tells me he likes the idea, but loves
my gift for presenting it. He does not have the decency of a face or voice in this memory, nor do
his words have shape beyond their intent; I recall, only, that if I sleep with him, he'll send my
project upstairs for consideration.
I don't recall my response, either. I recall so little of that day. What is clear, next: that I
take the elevator upstairs to see Mother.
"I always thought it was a good Theory," she says, in professional, practiced calm. She's
where she belongs, here. Out of her home, five flights off the ground and miles from anything
domestic. Armed in business casual, in a state of constant vigilance against threats perceived and
real. And I, of course, am in my place: a weaker version of hers.
"I thought I had them convinced." I stare at my acid coffee, not drinking it. Reluctantly, I
tell her about the manager's offer.
She nods, unsurprised. "Well, aren't you going to do it?" In fact, she's happy. Not bipolar
happy, but lucid. She sips her tea and raises an eyebrow. Encouraging me with her pale blue
I remember the night I almost broke into her mind, and I force myself calm. Ice sheets rise
like bastion spikes against her, opaque and thick. Casting a fog that will grow and linger, and
blur me from myself, and her from me.
"Of course not," I say as coldly as I can. "Why would you even say that? What happened
to," I swallow, recalling our conversation years prior, after that night with Jacksen. "What
happened to preserving my reputation?"
She rolls her eyes, her face rearranging with such scorn, begging me to read her mind.
Don't be a prude. Your worth is in your youth, not your mind. You think I got here by
being loyal to your father? House Avelle is a lineage of monsters; my disorder and your . . .
irregularity. You swing both ways--you care so little about who has their way with you. How is
this so horrible for you?
She goes pale, again. She knows I've done it, but she's still lucid. She's dealt with mental
invasions, and maybe by this point she's learned to cope. Maybe she thinks we have an
understanding. Maybe my real mother simply doesn't care.
"Grow up, Renei."
I don't feel it, but the next thing I know, my psionics flare and a shard of ice freezes
Mom's mug to her lips. The shard is the size of a thumbnail, but with the strength of my anger, it
latches on. She flinches pulls away. A bit too much flesh remains behind. She yells out as the
skin tears--a sliver of pink slides into her mug, splashes. Through the gap in her mouth, the
blood trickles into the mug, darkening it. A piece of her shorn off by the force of my will.
And then people are staring.
And then the trickling blood becomes a flood.
And something shatters.
And then screaming, not all of it from anger.
You hear about your Theory cracking. From trauma, or losing your psionics in a duel
against another psychic. You think it happens all at once. Just a cold snap, and one day you wake
up and you can't do the special thing you wrote about in your paper. You can't heal the fjords
with your mind. You can't make ice rinks. You can only do the basic telepathy and 'kinesis.
You don't think that maybe it's because bipolar disorder is genetic and bloodline is
everything. You don't wonder about the moments as they're happening. How they connect to and
reflect one another. How they sharpen and shatter.
And you don't lift the ice sheet wards in your mind, because if you do, you might see the
same sicknesses, the same behaviors that make a person near-impossible to live with.
I quit the job. I stop speaking to Mom. I move out. These things happen in a sequence,
and maybe even that one, but in my mind it's a white, cold flash, and it's the right thing.
It's right, because at least it leads me to Lindie.
In the semidark, the sheets wrap me with heat and sweat and the smell of us. I hear my
phone buzzing in the corner of the room. Without looking, I know it's Mom. I silence it with a
precision-flick of TK.
Lindie's on her back, smiling, her hands and legs entrapping me. I trail kisses down her
And she asks, "What changed about your Theory?"
I look up at her, and through her I see my own eyes--bright blue, wide, dilated. Then
confusion, frustration. Anger, which I crush beneath the ice. Arousal leaks out of me like the
details of a dream.
"What," I breathe. What the hell is wrong with you? I almost say.
Her chin is scrunched and her cheeks are flushed as she looks at me. Not an ounce of self-consciousness or worry.
"Tell me," she says. "I read your Theory, and it's not you at all. A Need for Ice? It didn't
tell me anything about your powers. It was just an essay on the impact of ice sheets in the fjords.
Floods and stuff like that, how to--"
"Lessen the damage of dam breakage," I say, quoting it. "Y-yes. And?"
"And I saw you've revised it at least forty times since publishing it."
I look away. I'd forgotten the revision count was public record as well. "It had a long
bibliography. I added the sources later."
Lindie's laugh is low and soft. "I want to know you, Renei. But you're so closed to me.
Except when you're like this." She reaches for me, and I don't pull away. I let her kiss me, let her
body fold around mine. I shudder and tense. "What changed?"
I stare at the outlet on her bedroom wall. "It won't happen to you."
"I think it happens to everyone." Kissing my neck. "You write a Theory on how you're
going to change the world, and you get psionics based on the essay, and your powers are new and
unique. But then the world shapes you instead of the other way around, until every mind feels the
same. And soon we're all the same telepathy and 'kinesics, doing basic reading and lifting, and
our worldviews merge into one.
"That's why other people have a hold on you. That's why you shut me out. Your Theory
started as something special, but you're afraid that if I see it, you won't be unique to me
I lower myself. She doesn't let go, doesn't stop kissing. My shoulders shudder. What will
this image be, when I see it later in my memory? What will I feel when I look back on this?
They degrade, I say to her mind, because the words won't come, and I can only say it in
the language of psionics where you can't lie. My mental voice is clear and cold and strong, as
ever. The Theories. They have a natural half-life. Power simplifies and homogenizes, and there
are just too many psychics. But if you don't believe in your individuality, your Theory won't stick
in the first place. That's why they don't . . . that's why no one would tell you.
She's kissing me, my shoulder. Aloud she says, "I love this part of you. This freckle, here.
The way your hair hangs over it. The way the muscle tightens when you think I can't tell what
Our link is open, too, so she seizes upon it. Mentally she responds: Your mind is
I don't say anything. I can't. Her lips are a sunburst on mine, her hands a surge of animal
hunger. In my hair and on my skin, awakening the nerves that simmer there. Across the room, my
phone buzzes--Mom, again--and again I turn it off, though my TK is a bit more distracted this
I'm twenty-four, at the graduation. The courtyard is larger than I remember, looming over
the students who managed to graduate with published Theories.
I see Lindie in the crowd, a short and bouncing shape among the clones of blue-silver
gowns. She waves--a lot of people are waving--but I touch my mind to hers in a brief, illicit
spark of telepathy and wave back. I see her smile like I'm next to her. I feel like I am.
Lindie's not at the top of her class, so she doesn't give an overlong speech. But their
Theories are listed on the stands-facing podium screen. Each of them will stand at center stage,
and the professors will impart power to them, and they become, officially, psychic.
I glance away as the students climb up, one by one. Theories are named, and psionics
flourish on the stage. Realities are formed and shaped before me, tugging at the minds of the
parents and friends and lovers and teachers around me. Their whole lives stare back at them, and
they can't know what's ahead. The cracks in their crystals, in the mirrors of their memories yet to
form. I look back and smile.
They escort Lindie up, and the next moment, her Theory flashes on the podium screen:
A Need for Shoulders
The title is so unexpected, so abjectly stupid; my laugh is sudden and sharp. People
glance at me, bemused. I clap my hand over my mouth, but there are tears in my eyes as they lock
Her mind hits me like a sunflare:
Lindie's Theory. The psychic part of it, the Lindie-shaped part. She shows me the world
through her lens. Everything is crisp and clear and bright. People are beautiful and beaming and
open to her, who knows so little and sees so much. It's so like what I remember, what I'd
forgotten, and it's so her.
I feel how badly she wants to prove to me she's right. That she can just be that shoulder
people need. That she can shape the world by shaping people not herself--by being open, she
will show others what they can be, and the idea is a pure thing, but I'm shaking my head, smiling,
wiping away tears.
And then she projects a mental image. I see myself as she sees me.
I can't help but think of being in bed, loving her. I don't think of sleazy managers, or
Mom, or Jacksen. The crystal mirror of my memory turns in my head, outside of time, unbound
by it. I see Renei of House Avelle, and all the things life has given her to arm herself. All the
knives it has used to sharpen her.
When I see Lindie seeing me, I'm elegant and clear and somehow beautiful, and every
memory I have of me becomes a broken mirror because nothing can match how she sees me now.
I'm weeping in the stands. A few people are seriously concerned, reaching their minds
out to me, but my link with Lindie is too strong to answer them, so I brush them off with surface
thoughts of I'm fine, it's fine.
I had to name it after you, she sends to me. I couldn't be me without you.
But you don't know me, I send back. Unable to keep anything inside. Lindie, honey, you
don't know me at all.
You know you, she sends. And maybe, in time, I can, too.
You're so young, I send. You're young and reckless and I can't believe you.
And what, she asks in a voice of fresh-cut glass, are you going to do about it?
There is a memory of Lindie's graduation, and it is clear and murky both. There are
details of bright laughs and parties, of her family and our friends, of too many drinks. There are
promises of the future we might make. There are glider cars over the floating estates of the city;
there are camping trips in the fjords. There is a lot of sex.
Mom calls, and at Lindie's insistence, I answer it. It goes well.
There are shapes I see when I think back to this time, a carousel of things half-forgotten
and things unfit for words--and I don't see them clearly because I see only the brightness of that
moment when I saw her and she saw me, in that moment I saw just one glimpse of the power of
I see a white heat that could shine forever, would that I could hold it. But I see that night
brightest of all, when she calls me to her, and our minds are a tether no crystal can snap. The
room is different than before because I see it how she sees it, I see me as she sees me, and I see
her as I always have but never realized, and she reaches for me.
And I thaw, against the whole of her.