The Psi Collective:
The Psi Collective is a global organization dedicated to the protection and prosperity of individuals with psionic abilities. It is part business venture, part extended family, part government, and part resistance movement. Ultimately, it is a secret society that sometimes assists Mundane factions and sometimes hinders them, but always acts in whatever it perceives to be the best interests of the psionic community.
The idea of a brotherhood of psis is probably as old as the awareness of psionics itself; like mages, psis have always had the need to band together to exchange knowledge and provide for mutual protection. The idea of a worldwide organization of psis, however, is much more recent, and had to await the development of high-speed communications and travel before it could become feasible. A certain minimum population density was also required, for a gestalt must be of a certain size in order to have the range to form telepathic links with other gestalts across continental distances. (See below for more information on gestalts and communication within the Collective.)
The Psi Collective is a young organization, born sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s. In the last twenty years it has dramatically increased in size, mirroring a trend of increasing prevalence of psychic abilities. What was once a small, secret brotherhood has become a powerful faction capable of exerting substantial influence on world events. Today the Collective numbers around 30 million adults worldwide, with about 150,000 of those in Metamor City (though Imperial intelligence is only aware of about 35,000 of these people).
The Collective has only one initial requirement for membership: you must have demonstrable talent in at least one of the six recognized psionic disciplines: telepathy, ESP, psychokinesis, psychic healing, psychometabolism, or psychoportation. Possessing supernatural abilities isn't enough: it must be shown that your powers are non-magical in nature, and independent of any divine or arcane source of energy. If there is any doubt about the nature of a person's abilities, the usual test is to place him or her inside an anti-magic field and see whether the abilities can still be used. A member may have other supernatural talents that are non-psionic in nature, but he or she must have at least one true psi ability. Level of power or skill in the use of psi abilities is not considered in determining membership, and psis of all power levels are accepted freely.
Telepathy is by far the most common discipline in the Collective, and more than 70% of its members have at least some telepathic ability. Of those who lack telepathy entirely, most are psychokinetics or psychoporters; the reason for the negative correlation between these disciplines and telepathic talent is unknown, but may simply be the result of the abilities being tied to different genes.
The Collective places all psis into one of three categories: latents, Collective members, and rogues. Latent psis are those individuals who have not yet discovered their abilities; the Collective seeks to track them down and induct them into its protective community as quickly as possible. Rogues are those who break the rules of the community, threatening its secrecy, its safety, or the lives of innocent Mundanes. These rebels are hunted down and killed with ruthless efficiency. Any psi whom the Collective knows about who isn't breaking the rules is considered a member of the Collective, whether he wishes it or not.
The Psi Collective has a number of goals that provide the overarching framework for everything it does.
1.) Protect psis. Ultimately, the Collective exists to promote the health and safety of its members. Any threat to the community must be adequately and appropriately defended against. Psis outside the community must be found and brought under its protection. Psis must be provided with guarantees of food, shelter and medicine. Inevitably, money must be raised to make all of this happen, and for this reason the Collective is engaged in numerous business ventures around the globe.
2.) Propagate the subrace. The psis of the Collective view themselves as the next leap forward in human evolution; as such, it is vital that all psis do their part to perpetuate and expand the community. The more psis there are, the more difficult it will be for Mundanes to act against them. Thus, all members of the Collective are called to breed, early and often, ideally with fellow psis or the close blood relatives of fellow psis. The entire structure of the Collective has been designed to allow for the raising of as many children as possible, in a safe and structured environment that provides for their nurturing, education and development.
3.) Determine the origins of psionics. The Collective keeps careful records on the genetics of its members and the relative strength of their psionic abilities. The gene or genes that determine psychic aptitude have not yet been found, but the Collective hopes to find these genes and develop assays to test for the presence of the psi-active alleles in apparent Mundanes. They also hope to determine if there is a genetic basis for the strength of a person's psi abilities, to see whether it is possible to simply breed a stronger psi. Finally, some Collective members are conducting research into the physiological and genetic effects of exposing Mundanes to life-aspected mana, hoping to determine what specific changes result in psionic abilities in those so exposed ... and perhaps, someday, to develop a safe, repeatable method of producing heritable psionic abilities in Mundanes.
4.) Maintain secrecy. This is more of a strategy for pursuing #1 than a goal in and of itself, but it bears noting: the Collective generally wants Mundanes to know as little as possible about its resources, its means of operation, and especially about the powers and limitations of its members. Even as the Collective is trying to learn whatever it can about the origins of psi abilities, it resists efforts by Mundane-led organizations to discover the same thing. Those psis who actively assist Mundanes in developing defenses against psi, or weapons to exploit psi weaknesses, are branded as rogues and swiftly killed, as is any psi who attempts to betray Collective members to the Mundane authorities. Fortunately, such turncoats are rare, especially among those who have experienced the sense of bonding and camaraderie that comes from being an active member of the Collective.
The Collective is, as might be expected from the name, collectivist in nature, and its goal is the creation of an economic and social utopia for all psis. The Collective gathers funding from its constituents and then uses it in whatever ways are necessary to promote the health, happiness and safety of its members. While the Collective often interacts with the outside world as a corporation, providing services in a capitalist economy, the internal economy of the Collective is decidedly communist: from each according to his means, to each according to his needs. This collectivist mentality is maintained through the use of telepathic gestalts, which dissolve barriers of identity and help each psi to see her fellow psis as extensions of herself.
Most Mundanes are completely unaware of the internal organization of the Collective, and would be very surprised if they knew how most psis live. The breeding cells are considered sanctuaries and safe havens; psis don't talk about them with Mundanes, and never reveal their locations or the nature of their personal lives to outsiders. Even the Collective itself is almost never mentioned, and is the stuff of urban legends and whispered rumors among Mundanes.
Active vs. Passive Members
The amount of dedication to the Collective's utopian ideal varies among psis. Broadly speaking, the Collective ranks its members as either active or passive. Passive members go about their lives as if they were Mundanes: working their own jobs, keeping most of the money for themselves, and essentially trying to pretend that they're just normal people. They may kick back a small percentage of their monthly income to the Collective, and could look to the Collective for help with the occasional problem if they needed it, but for the most part they're on their own. Their donations are tracked and tabulated, and this information is used by the Collective when there is disagreement over whether to assist a passive member, and to what extent.
Active members, on the other hand, give most or all of what they earn to the Collective, depositing it in one of their many numbered accounts. In return, they receive a place in a cell, where they are provided with housing, food and transportation paid for with Collective funds. Medical care is provided through a network of psi physicians and healers, and through hospital facilities owned by the Collective (which also generate a good deal of revenue by treating Mundane patients). They are also permitted to draw a stipend for personal expenses and entertainment, the maximum value of which is determined by how much money they bring into the Collective.
Active or passive, all members of the Collective show the same devotion to secrecy; the private lives of psis and internal structure of the Collective are not discussed with outsiders. Those who are unable to keep their mouths shut will be brought to one of the Collective's more powerful telepaths, who will "change their minds" about what is appropriate material for discussion with Mundanes. Those guilty of outright treason against the Collective are simply executed.
The Breeding Cell
The breeding cell, or simply cell, is the central organizing principle of life in the Collective, first adopted in the late 1960s or early 1970s. It is a group of four to ten psis, consisting of one or two men and several women, all of reproductive age and all living under the same roof (sometimes in a cluster of adjoining apartments). All cell members have at least some telepathic ability -- non-teeps don't form breeding cells, for reasons that will become apparent -- and at least one must be strong enough to initiate a gestalt without difficulty. Usually, at least one other individual will have some notable ability in one of the non-telepathic disciplines. The other members typically will have only weak talents, since these are far more common than strong ones.
The cell's primary reason for existence is to promote the propagation of the psi subrace; because of this, it is a polyamorous household. When the cell is producing children, it is the male cell member's responsibility to ensure that at least one of the female members is pregnant at all times. When one woman enters the third trimester, he resumes his attempts with the other members of the cell until one of them conceives; by the time that woman is entering the late stages of her pregnancy, the first woman has had several months to recover and is able to once again assist in the running of the household. Those members of the cell who are not pregnant at any given time assist in caring for the cell's children, maintaining the home, protecting the cell from harm, and earning the money that allows the Collective to continue paying for their food, shelter and medicine.
In an average breeding cell with four female members, each woman will typically become pregnant twice in a five-year period. Each woman's pregnancy is timed to begin about six months after the woman before her. After her child is born, she will nurse for about the next fifteen months, at which point it is then her turn to become pregnant again. (Nursing is important for bonding between all mothers and their infants, but especially so for telepaths, who use this early period to teach their children how to control their contact with other minds. Because of this, nursing is typically prolonged as much as the cell's breeding schedule allows.) By the end of the fifth year, all four women have been through this cycle and the cell has eight children between the ages of 4 years and 9 months, spaced six months apart. At this point the cell generally takes a break from child-bearing, at least until the existing children make the shift to living full-time in the creche. The most dedicated cells take only a five-year break, then repeat the five-year breeding cycle, producing a total of 16 children over 15 years (assuming no multiple births). No cell has ever attempted a third cycle, due to both simple weariness with parenthood and the increased risk of birth defects in children born to older mothers.
The cell, like the Collective itself, maintains unity and commonality of purpose through the use of telepathy. All psis living in cells have at least some telepathic ability, and cell members remain in almost constant telepathic contact when they are at home. Every day, all of the cell's members bond together in a telepathic gestalt, a unified consciousness in which the walls that divide Self from Other are broken down. In a gestalt, lies and omissions are impossible; the group-mind has access to all the data available to its members. In this state, problems facing the cell can be weighed, analyzed, and decided on unanimously, based on the best interests of the cell. Misunderstandings or sources of conflict between cell members can be quickly identified and resolved before they get out of hand.
This psychic bonding is intensely intimate, and it produces a sense of deep closeness and attachment between cell members that persists even after the gestalt has ended. As a result, each member of the cell will often seek out any of the others for physical and emotional intimacy, which is almost always given freely and without hesitation (and usually accompanied by more psychic bonding between those individuals). These times of intimacy need not necessarily be sexual, but in breeding cells they often are: the Collective encourages bisexuality among its female members, as this reduces competition among cellmates for the attentions of their husband and makes it less likely for any cell member to feel emotionally or sexually neglected. (For those women who are not naturally bisexual, strong Collective telepaths will usually perform the necessary "edits" to their subconscious to make them so. This is never done without consent, but the offer is rarely refused.) Jealousy is almost unheard-of among cell-mates: each member of the cell sees the others as extentions of his or her own self, and the gestalt process makes it easy for the cell to see and correct the problem if one of its members' emotional needs are not being met.
Most cells do not sleep with all their members in the same room, simply because of the difficulties in finding a bed or sleeping surface large enough for everyone. Instead, cell members retire to multiple bedrooms, sleeping together in twos or threes based on mutual agreement. Individual bedrooms are not usually seen as "belonging" to one cell member or another; all spaces are available for the use of all. Unless he or she is ill and the disease is contagious, no one sleeps alone in a Collective cell.
A cell will continue producing children until it reaches the limit of what the cell's members can reasonably support, both financially and in terms of the sheer logistics of caring for children. Usually, depending on the number of cell members, the maximum number of children in the home at one time is between six and twelve. Each of the cell members views all of the cell's children as his or her own, regardless of actual parentage, and the children likewise view all of the adults in the cell as their parents.
The Collective's earliest breeding cells have by now reached the end of their reproductive years, and are no longer bearing children. Still, these cells have stayed together even after their original purpose has been fulfilled; the bond between them is so strong that most cannot even think of leaving it. Postreproductive cells continue to contribute to the Collective through their finances and continued support for their children. Most also do extensive teaching or other support work at the creche.
The next step up in the organization of the Collective is called the hive. This is simply a collection of cells in the same overall geographic area that meet to decide on issues affecting the entire community. A hive also includes any local members who are not attached to cells.
Hives usually meet about once a month, unless an emergency arises, and they generally do so in secret or under a false pretense (such as the meeting of a religious body or a hobby-oriented society). The meetings are generally conducted telepathically, with a translator keeping the non-teeps apprised of what is being discussed. Non-teeps are given the chance to air their thoughts or concerns, and to vote on any measures concerning the hive; decisions are then made by gestalt, with the non-teeps' votes being factored in to the deliberations.
The hive holds the purse-strings for the Collective in its region; expenditures above a given amount require the approval of the hive's members. The hive also provides care for any elderly psis in its community, and maintains the creche for the older children.
Most decisions faced by the Collective can be handled by a single hive. In the event that a problem involves a broader scale, however, or requires a more potent response than a single hive can muster, then multiple hives can come together to deal with the situation.
There are no long-term organizational units larger than the hive; any gatherings across a broader scale will be temporary and focused toward a particular goal. All hives maintain means of contacting one another, however, through a loose chain of connections called the Network.
When long-range collaboration between hives is necessary, powerful psis are used to create links between individual hive-gestalts. The range of a telepath's powers increases with the strength of the gestalt he or she is part of, so it is possible for multiple hives working together to create super-gestalts stretching across hundreds or thousands of miles. To date no decision has ever required the collaboration of the entire Collective, but there have been gestalts that involved upwards of five thousand members.
There is no overall leader of the Collective, nor even an oligarchy of a few select individuals. All decisions are made by group-mind, with the size of the group-mind being determined by the scope of the problem being confronted. While there are certainly very powerful, very respected members of the Collective whose input is weighed very carefully, in the end each of these "Elders" is still just one more voice in the overall group-mind. This is an aspect of the Collective that is not known or understood by most Mundanes, who think of life in terms of ascending chains of hierarchy. The Collective is happy to let them remain ignorant on this issue, since it means that many intelligence agencies and rival factions spend a great deal of wasted effort trying to find out the identities of the Collective's "secret ringleaders".
While, as noted above, the Collective has no actual leaders, the Elders do keep a careful eye on how things are progressing and recommend certain course of action to the Collective from time to time. There are currently 126 people recognized as Elders, but only 12 of them played a direct role in founding the Collective; most of the others were children or not yet born at the time the Collective was formed.
The Elders are almost all highly charismatic, and they are generally considered the most powerful psis in the Collective. Interestingly, 97 of the 126 are male, in spite of the fact that the overall psi population is strongly skewed in favor of women. It appears that while psi is more common among women, those men who do possess it are more likely to hone their talents to very high levels of power and skill. No one is eligible to be considered an Elder until he or she is at least 40 years old; younger individuals, even if they are very powerful, are generally considered too rash and inexperienced to be advisors to the Collective.
None of the Elders are directly involved in breeding cells, even though they invented the system. Many of the men still provide "stud service" to breeding cells, in hopes of increasing the number of powerful psis in the next generation. Female Elders often serve as headmasters of creches, leaders of Collective-run research facilities, or freelance advisors and teachers traveling among the hives. Two female Elders are master egoists who have used their powers to slow their rates of aging; these two appear to be in their mid- to late 20s, and continue having children in spite of being over 60 years old.
Children are of central importance to the Collective, and each hive takes it upon itself to provide for its children's education. Many children of telepaths are telepathic even from the womb, and would thus find it difficult to fit in to a Mundane school; in addition, Mundane schooling would not provide them with the all-important training in the use of their psionic abilities. These problems are overcome through the use of the creche.
The creche is an immersive schooling environment maintained by a local hive. The teachers are members of the hive, and educate the children in the areas of knowledge they themselves are most proficient in. This is usually done on a rotational, part-time basis, though each creche typically has a few adults who are full-time staff, especially on the boarding-school side of the creche. Creches try to get by with as few full-time teachers as possible, however, because those who teach in the creche full-time are not bringing money into the Collective with outside jobs.
Children begin attending at the creche at age 3 or 4, usually only a few hours a week at first. As the children mature, they spend more and more time at the creche, bonding with their classmates and intensifying their rate of learning. At age 10 the creche becomes a full-time boarding school, with the children returning to their home cells only for brief visits (though they still see their parents often as the adults go through rotation at the creche). This is intended to have two benefits: it increases the child's sense of loyalty to the hive and the Collective, instead of just the home cell; and it frees up space and time for the parents at home, who are theoretically then able to continue having children. Creches are usually disguised before the outside world as highly prestigious private schools that accept students by invitation only.
Teenagers graduating from the creche can find a variety of future life-paths, depending on their interests and abilities. Many go off to Mundane universities, where they find themselves very well prepared for future academics thanks to their immersive schooling experience. Others enter vocational programs and apprenticeships with Collective-run businesses. Still others follow careers in music, theater or the arts. Very few end up performing low-end, unskilled jobs -- psis tend toward higher-than-average intelligence, and most can find something well-paying that catches their interest. Naturally, the ultimate goal of most Collective members is to have children of their own, and most creche-members form close bonds with classmates in their final years of schooling together that often serve as the basis for new breeding cells.
Breeding cells, for the sake of efficiency, seldom have more than one male member, since one man can easily handle the responsibility of keeping four or five women pregnant on a regular schedule. However, while there is a sex bias toward females among psis, it is nowhere near that large -- there are currently only about 2 female psis for every male psi in the Collective. As a result, there are many male psis who are not needed for breeding cells but nevertheless desire to be active members of the Collective. This has led to the creation of the bachelor cell.
A bachelor cell is just what it sounds like -- a group of four to seven unattached male psis living under one roof. This allows them to enjoy the economic benefits of sharing resources, much like a group of Mundane men living in a dorm or frat house, and to also enjoy the defensive benefits of banding together with other psis against the threat of outside attack.
Bachelor cells also provide a ready source of mates for any female psi in the community who may be looking to have children of her own. These are most often passive members who are unattached to breeding cells but want to be sure to have psychically-gifted children. Bachelor cells will also provide "replacements" for male members of breeding cells who go missing or are killed. Lastly, bachelors can also provide some much-needed genetic variety to breeding cells: a cell may hire a bachelor to provide "stud service", ensuring a different mix of genes from the cell's usual father and probably a different set of abilities in the child. Strong psis of all types are in particularly high demand for "stud service", since a child resulting from the mating of two strong psis is likely to be even stronger than either of them.
Some bachelor cells develop applications beyond just the reproductive. Because they live together and thus develop strong psychic bonds to one another, bachelor cells can often be highly effective as mission teams, performing military or runner work for the Collective's clients. These combat-ready bachelor cells are often some of the most effective and dangerous groups of people around, though on a normal day you'd have a hard time distinguishing them from your typical, everyday frat house.
Given the polyamorous nature of breeding cells, it might be reasonable to suspect that something similar would happen in bachelor cells. Most of the time, however, this is not the case. While sexual intimacy between members of bachelor cells does sometimes occur, on the whole homosexuality is no more common among psychic males than among Mundane ones -- somewhere between 2 and 5 percent of the population, depending on the local culture. (Unlike the females in breeding cells, bisexuality in males is not promoted by the Collective -- the women of the Collective don't want anything distracting male psis from the mission to father children. However, bisexuality does sometimes develop on its own in male psis, particularly in breeding cells with two male members.) In any case, few bachelor psis consider sex with their cell-mates to be a fair substitute for sex with women, particularly since there's no chance of such couplings producing children.
Male telepaths do tend to be much more in touch with their emotions than Mundane men, and bachelors will often form gestalts with their cell-mates in order to process and share emotional burdens or resolve matters affecting the entire cell. However, these mind-links do not usually become sexual: unlike many Mundanes, teeps realize that there is a difference between emotional intimacy and sexuality. Most teeps, male or female, are comfortable with expressing the former without requiring it to be mixed up with the latter -- though a Mundane watching two male teeps bonding emotionally could easily mistake them for lovers. This is yet another reason why teeps tend to keep personal matters private, opening up only among their fellow psis.
The Psi Collective is a very large, diffuse organization, and as such it's not surprising that they have their proverbial fingers in a lot of different pies. Here are some of the most common ways they make their money.
Although many psis find it somewhat distasteful, some of the most profitable work around still comes from the government. The Imperial Ministry of Intelligence (IMI) and the Military Intelligence Directorate (MID) both make ample use of psis as spies, couriers and saboteurs. The work is hazardous, but the pay is commensurate with the risk, and the Collective gets access to a lot of useful psi-drugs and equipment through its continued partnership with the spy community.
The Collective also performs corporate espionage work for private clients, but they won't scan people's minds and pass on their secrets for a private employer. (They won't do it for the government, either, unless the Imps have a warrant for the information and the process has been cleared with a judge.) The Collective knows that if its telepaths don't maintain a rigid rule of confidentiality, they'll be seen as a security risk and hunted down. Most of the time, they try to make sure that the targets of their missions don't know that telepaths were involved at all. On the other hand, if a telepath happens to come across information that is useful to the completion of his mission -- or may be useful to the long-term survival of the Collective -- then the Psi Collective doesn't see any problem with retaining that information "in-house", as long as they don't share it with Mundanes.
Telepaths and espers often find their powers in demand when paranormal or supernatural phenomena are taking place and the use of magic has already been ruled out. See the section on Dispelling Hauntings and the profile on Abbey Preston for examples of how psis can be useful in this type of investigation.
Telepaths are uniquely suited to serve as psychotherapists, since they are able to directly treat psychological disorders that might take months or years to cure through traditional therapy (or might be simply incurable through such techniques). Telepaths also make effective marriage counselors, given their ability to sense what is being left unsaid and bring it out into the open. Psychic healers, of course, are in high demand in hospitals and clinics around the world; their ability to work without surgery, without antiseptic conditions, without even any tools of any sort, makes them invaluable to relief efforts in the undeveloped world or to army hospitals near the front lines. The speed with which their healing takes effect likewise makes them extremely valuable in the emergency room, though they must rest often to make sure that they don't over-tax their powers.
As noted, the Collective also maintains a medical network of doctors and hospitals, owned and operated by its members. This medical network, called Senadyne Medical Services Group, treats millions of Mundane patients every year, bringing large amounts of money into the Collective. Its hospitals are widely regarded as some of the best-run and most effective in the world. (Most people aren't aware that Senadyne is run by spookies.) Covertly, these hospitals also manufacture a number of psi-drugs, which many Collective members keep on hand in case of emergencies.
As flashy and impressive as covert and paranormal work might be, most psis don't have abilities strong enough to pull off anything like that. The average psi makes a living much like a Mundane, working at the same types of jobs and doing the same types of work. Psis do tend toward high-skill, high paying positions, given their above-average intelligence -- but you'd still be more likely to find them in a white-collar office than a military complex or a haunted mansion. Most psis work hard at fairly normal jobs and bring home a steady paycheck; it's only when they get home from work that their lives are dramatically different from those of Mundanes.
Psis in the Collective vary in their religious beliefs -- this is one area in which they have never felt it necessary to reach a consensus, although many individual cells will do so. Generally speaking, there's too much in religion that has to be taken on faith for the Collective's usual strategy of "analyze all the facts, then decide on the most sensible course of action" to really be effective.
A majority of psis are Followers of one stripe or another, and of varying degrees of piety. Few are members of the Ecclesia, but there are many who count themselves as Meraists or members of the various Rebuilder denominations. Psis tend to form churches (or even entire chapters within their faith) that are populated exclusively by psis, though they keep this fact secret from the upper levels of church leadership.
Collective members need psi-only churches for a number of reasons. First, their powers are far too difficult to keep secret within the close-knit environment of a church; it's far easier for the church as a whole to keep that secret from their sister churches, whom they might never see. Second, the family lives of most psis would be completely bizarre to Mundanes, and most Mundane Followers would consider them sinful. Psychic Followers, for their part, justify the breeding cells in a variety of ways, most of which revolve around Eli's acceptance of polygamy in the Old Covenant and the idea that the members of a gestalt become "one heart and one flesh" more completely than any Mundane could imagine. They point out that what makes lust and sexual immorality sinful is the use of sex for personal gain at the expense of others, and that the gestalt makes it virtually impossible for one telepath to "use" another in that way -- the needs of one become the needs of all. In any case, whether their reasoning is valid or not, psis need to be able to share their spiritual burdens with pastors and fellow parishoners who can understand their lives and the troubles they face -- something that Mundanes could never do.
Those psis who are not Followers are divided among a variety of Universalist or Agnostic faiths and philosophies. These include various eastern religions, and the cults of some of the Pantheon members. Some psis follow a gentler form of Suspira's Church of Hedonism -- the danger of uncontrolled mind-links prevents telepaths from engaging in sex with non-psis, but some psi-only Hedonist chapters have formed which use gestalts to enhance and deepen the usual church orgies. Suspira frankly isn't quite sure what to do with these people, since they're unable to have sex with the incubi and succubae who are the high priests of the church -- but they send in their financial contributions like anyone else, and in exchange she keeps their psychic nature private and lets them perform their rituals and ceremonies without a high priest participating in them.
One faith that psis never follow is that of the Church of Eternal Brotherhood. Unlike most Mundanes, the Collective is aware that the CEB is run by the vampires; while they respect the charity work the church does, their fear and contempt for vampires (see below) keeps them from associating with them.
Difficulties and Challenges
Members of the Psi Collective continue to face a number of unique challenges.
Marginalization of Low-Powered Males
It is a sad fact that, in a society where maximized reproduction is paramount, men simply aren't as valuable as women. A single man in good health can sire hundreds of children in a year, but only if there are wombs available to bear them. In a breeding cell, there may be two or three women at any given time who can share the burden of nursing the cell's infants; males, while often physically stronger, can provide little to the household that the women cannot do for themselves. With psychic abilities and modern firearms at their disposal, even defense of the cell is not something that strictly requires a male presence, though many breeding cells do feel more secure when their husband is home.
The result of all this is that men within the Collective often feel useless or marginalized. While some males are lucky enough to become husbands for breeding cells, and others (particularly those with strong abilities) can look forward to providing "stud service" to hundreds or even thousands of women, the prospects for the average male with weak abilities are extremely poor. They may live quite comfortably as members of a bachelor cell, finding camaraderie with fellow psis and enjoying the safety of life in the Collective, but their odds of fathering children with other psis are quite small.
Responses to this fact are varied. Many leave active life in the Collective, becoming passive members and marrying Mundanes. This is not an option for many telepaths, since their powers will cause them to form dangerous mind-links from which their spouses will be unable to disentangle themselves. For those with very weak telepathic talents, however, it is sometimes possible to avoid the formation of this link, or to prevent it from growing deep enough to be dangerous; for these individuals, and for those psis with no telepathic abilities, intimate relationships with Mundanes are possible. While breeding outside the Collective is generally discouraged, many of these disenfranchised males find it preferable to spending a lifetime waiting for the chance to sire children with a fellow psi.
Other male psis attempt to befriend members of one or more local breeding cells. While not part of the cell itself, they may attempt to make themselves useful and appreciated allies, assisting with the household's needs in whatever ways they can. Sometimes this can lead to mating opportunities with one or more members of the cell, particularly if the cell's husband is also not a strong psi. Since it is impossible for any member of a cell to keep secrets from any other member, these couplings do not usually happen illicitly; if one cell member is attracted to the man and would like to have sex with him, she will generally seek the approval of her cell-mates before doing so. Different cells display different degrees of acceptance of such extra-cell matings; some cells' husbands view them as an attempt to supplant their positions within the cell, and may require a mind-link with the man in question to verify that this is not his intention. The attitude toward extra-cell mating with a weak psi is almost always less favorable than the attitude toward bringing in a strong psi for "stud service" -- if you're going to go outside the cell to get pregnant, after all, it's only logical to ensure that you're getting quality genes. Once again, the odds of a male with weak powers siring children aren't very good, no matter how many female psis he has befriended.
In the last twenty years, another strategy has emerged among bachelor psis eager to have a family: rather than spend their lives chasing after a few scant opportunities to sire children, they go on pilgrimage to Metamor City and apply for the androgyne variant of the Curse. Having been transformed into attractive, fully functional women, they can find placement in a breeding cell almost overnight. Obviously, this is a huge life decision with major consequences: while non-psionic androgynes can choose their partners as they wish and spend up to half their time in male form, an androgyne entering a breeding cell will be expected to have sex with men for the express purpose of bearing children. Between pregnancy and nursing, an androgyne psi in an average breeding cell can expect to spend four straight years stuck in female form, unable to revert to her male body at all. Six years later, after the first batch of children has begun to enter the creche, she'll likely have to go through the entire process again.
For most men, the idea is too daunting to consider. The pressure within the Collective to have children is very strong, however, as is the need to be part of a family structure and the need for sexual intimacy. In addition, telepaths usually adapt to gender changes more easily than Mundanes, because they can use mind-links to pick up feminine thought patterns and behaviors from female psis -- essentially copying a small portion of the other woman's mind to retain inside their own after the gestalt is ended. This, combined with the natural drive to reproduce that is part of the Curse's own effect on the subject's mind, is usually enough to ensure that the psi's change in gender role is a successful one.
Since 1980 CR, some 10,000 male psis have made the trip to Metamor for gender reassignment. Nearly all of these have reported being extremely happy with their choice and have encouraged other males in the Collective to do the same. With 10 million adult male psis in the Collective -- and a demand for only 4-5 million -- this is still only a drop in the bucket. Many are still afraid to give up their masculinity for the sake of belonging. Still, the idea is slowly gaining acceptance, and many believe this is the only acceptable long-term solution for the Collective's "male surplus". Meanwhile, many psis are taking their male children to Metamor to be "Cursed" while they are still infants or toddlers, hoping to spare them the difficulties of growing up male within the Collective. It has been projected by statisticians, sociologists and precogs within the Collective that the acceptance of this practice will gradually rise over the coming decades until all new children being born in the Collective are female on at least a part-time basis, sometime between 30 and 40 years from now. This will dramatically increase the reproductive capacity of the Collective, improving the odds of long-term survival of the psi subrace (see below for more on psi reproductive strategies vis a vis interaction with Mundanes).
Non-Telepaths as Second-Class Psis
Most of the institutions of the Collective -- the cell, the hive, the Network -- depend upon the use of telepathy to make decisions and promote the unity and loyalty of the Collective. Those psis who lack telepathic abilities entirely -- slightly less than 30%, or 9 million adults worldwide -- are unable to take part in gestalts, and thus are kept from participating directly in the most important aspects of Collective life. What's worse, the danger of accidental mind-link means it is impossible for teeps to be intimate with non-teeps, thus cutting non-teeps off from participation in the breeding cells that are the core of Collective family life.
The telepathic members of the Collective have realized this problem and do what they can to counteract it. Non-teeps are given much of the time at hive meetings to ensure that their needs are expressed and properly considered. To increase the odds that their children, at least, will be telepathic, non-teeps are allowed to have children with telepathic partners through the use of artificial insemination. (Children do not develop telepathic abilities in utero unless their mothers are themselves telepathic, so there is no danger of a destructive mind-link between a non-teep mother and her child. The child's abilities will usually begin to manifest at puberty or shortly before.) Non-teeps are also encouraged to form standard, monogamous families with other non-teeps, since these provide the most stable environment for child-rearing when the unifying benefits of gestalt are unavailable.
The Collective generally hopes that the current existence of non-telepathic psis is only a transition stage, one that they can grow beyond in the next generation through the use of careful breeding. One day, they hope, all psis will be telepaths, and the alienation felt by today's non-teeps will be only an unhappy memory.
Insane and Unstable Psis
A wealth of evidence has shown that psychic abilities represent a great strain on a person's mental faculties, particularly when the person has received little or no formal training in the use of his or her powers. Those who develop their abilities suddenly -- whether at puberty or through exposure to life-aspected mana -- often find themselves unable to deal with the strange phenomena manifesting around them. Psychokineticists may find objects flying across the room or fires starting spontaneously in response to their mood swings. Espers may be afflicted with strange visions (which may be precog, retro, or clairvoyance) or hear disembodied voices (clairaudience); egoists may find themselves unwittingly breaking things with psychically-enhanced strength. Strong telepaths are particularly hard-hit by sudden onset, as their minds are flooded with the thoughts and emotions of other human beings; if their powers begin to manifest when they are making love to a Mundane, the results can be disastrous.
The Collective has taken it upon itself to handle things when psis go mad, and the challenge is formidable. Such individuals, or their relatives, may be unwilling to allow the Collective to take custody of them. The rogue psis may fight, even kill, to avoid being captured. Mundane police forces are usually unwilling to surrender their prisoners, especially if they're unaware of how great a threat the psi is. And then, of course, there's the question of what you do with them if you do succeed in catching them.
Many insane psis can be rehabilitated, but the process is long, difficult, and dangerous for those performing the therapy. Sometimes the subject's mind effectively has to be dismantled and rebuilt; even if the memories are left mostly intact, removing derangements and restructuring the personality into something sane and rational can take months or years. Even when the troubled psi is pronounced healthy and released to join the rest of the Collective, many will view him with suspicion and a little fear, especially if he had been violent during his madness. And there is always the threat that some small seed of madness has taken root in the therapists during their many long hours spent mind-linked with a deranged consciousness ... a madness that could spread through gestalts to the rest of the hive if it is not identified. Needless to say, rehabilitation therapy is surrounded by more than a little bit of paranoia.
With some individuals, the Collective doesn't even bother with rehabilitation. Those who commit murder, rape, or assault and battery of a pregnant woman are simply killed, their bodies disposed of in a way that suggests an accident (or in a way that ensures they will never be found). Such executions are always carried out with a grim and sober attitude -- such individuals are cut off from the Collective in order to prevent their bloodthirst from being transmitted to other psis, and thus the Collective is careful to kill them in such a way that they do not give in to bloodthirst themselves.
Conflicts with Vampires
Generally speaking, psis and vampires have an intense dislike for one another. Telepaths are resistant to vamps' mental powers, and can actually block the Sharing from creating a blood-bond with them by erecting a shield against the vampire's psyche. Alternatively, they can use the Sharing as a conduit to force-feed a psychic attack back onto the vampire, possibly causing all sorts of interesting and destructive effects. (Rumor has it that one powerful psi who was attacked by a vamp simply ordered it to set itself on fire and then wait outside for the sun to rise.) For their part, teeps see vamps as psychic joy-riders, preying on people without regard for the emotional damage they're causing. Even vamps who make a point to be careful about their Sharing partners are likely to receive a cool reception from a telepath.
The Psi Collective is also very worried about what could happen if a vampire ever did succeed in turning a powerful teep into its Childe. A vampire trained in the use of its psychic abilities, and able to use those abilities without eye contact or a blood bond, would be a formidable weapon for whatever use the Vampire Queen might come up with ... possibly including the destruction of the Collective, if she found them to be a threat to her interests. Worse yet, the Sire or the Queen might decide to use their new Childe to bring other teeps into the vampire race. Psis are very rare at this point in history, and one of the Collective's primary goals is to encourage the procreation of large numbers of children by powerful psis. Since vampires tend to sire people who are young and beautiful, a concerted effort to recruit telepathic vamps would remove teeps from the gene pool at the very age when they are fertile and most desperately needed by the Collective. Even if they didn't mean to, the vamps could very well drive psis to extinction through their own greed. That's something the Collective is strongly determined to prevent.
Conflicts with Mundanes
At the moment, relations between psis and Mundanes are often tense but generally not openly hostile. Mundanes are often afraid of "spookies" and avoid them when possible, but few would recommend killing or imprisoning them. Many, however, would like to see a psionic version of the restraining band be developed, as well as a test for psychic ability. The Collective works behind the scenes to prevent such things from falling into Mundane hands, since they suspect that regulation would only be the first step toward extermination.
The prevailing opinion among the Collective is that open conflict between psis and Mundanes is probably inevitable; as such, their top priority is to delay any such conflict until they are strong enough to win it. Part of this boils down to sheer numbers, which is why the Collective is doing everything it can to maximize reproduction. So far, they've been quite successful: the psi population is growing much faster than the Mundane population, doubling in size roughly every 25 years. (The Mundane human population, in contrast, is currently doubling roughly every 90 years.) The psi population is projected to increase even faster as the female-to-male ratio in the Collective increases, doubling roughly every 20 years after 2050. By 2100, if the psi and Mundane populations continue increasing at their projected rates, it is estimated that the Collective will have an adult population of over 712 million, out of a total human population of 11.3 billion -- roughly 6% of the population. With children and teenagers added in, the total psi population might top 2.8 billion -- 25% of the human race. Most psis suspect it won't get much farther than that before something serious happens and the models become irrelevant.
The fear of open conflict is also part of the reason the Collective is trying to hard to breed stronger psis. Most psis are not much more capable than the average Mundane, in terms of martial prowess -- if anything, they're worse off, because the empathic nature of many psis makes them reluctant to kill. A powerful psi, on the other hand, can easily be a match for dozens or hundreds of Mundanes -- or can simply avoid combat altogether, by manipulating his enemies' minds. To be sure, wizards and Immortals are far more dangerous, but the Collective generally considers those people to be far more rational and open to compromise. Even though mages coined the term "spooky", most are intelligent and well-educated enough to realize that psis aren't all that different from many of the other races with which humanity shares the planet. They may even represent the next stage of human evolution, and would thus be something to be encouraged rather than persecuted. No, it is ordinary humans -- armed with guns, bombs, psi-resistant technology, and purchased magic -- from whom the Collective is most afraid of an attack.
Generally speaking, psis do not want war with Mundanes. They just want to be able to live out their lives like anyone else, to make sure that their children will have a safer, better world to grow up in. Unfortunately, the reality is that a "safe, good world" for psis is probably not one where Mundanes are running things. Most psis know, deep down, that they're superior to Mundane humanity; they don't make a big deal about it, they don't really talk about it much, but they know it's true. They're "what's next", as surely as space exploration was the next step after exploring the earth. Many would like to share what they have become with Mundane humanity, if such a thing were both possible and safe for all concerned -- but if that should prove impossible, they would like their descendants to be able to eventually step in and assume their position as the heirs of humanity with relatively little fuss. The best way to do that, in the Collective's judgment, is to quietly assume control of as much of civilization's key infrastructure as possible -- business, health care, utilities, and eventually government. In this way they hope to deny Mundanes access to the weapons they would use to harm them, essentially taking a loaded gun away from what they consider to be a somewhat unstable child. The Collective is a long way off from being able to accomplish most of this -- they don't have the numbers, the resources, or enough powerful psis to pull it off -- but eventually, they hope for a bloodless transition of power from Mundane to psi hands. A lot of folks are pretty sure they'll never be able to pull it off, but that's the plan.
In the meantime, psis are flocking to Metamor and Quenardya. These lands are already home to a wide mix of peoples, and their Immortal rulers are wise, benevolent, and generally sympathetic to the plight of psis. Furthermore, these lands have strong underpinnings of representative government, which allows the psis to insert their own people into many positions of authority throughout the realm. As their population grows, the Collective hopes to claim entire districts, towns, and eventually whole cities for themselves, quietly buying up land from the existing owners and creating a voting bloc that is quite literally of one mind on the issues. Some psis are finding themselves at home in Metamor City, disappearing into the anonymity of big city life. Others prefer the wide-open spaces of Flatlands Province, where neighbors are distant enough that psychic powers go unnoticed and huge farmhouses can provide all the space a breeding cell could ask for. Wherever they go, the psis have to maintain a delicate balance: cells spaced far enough apart that they don't draw attention, but still close enough together to have an impact on the political front.
The future of the psi subrace is full of questions and uncertainty. Things are going quite well right now, but nobody in the Collective is foolish enough to believe that will last forever. Most psis believe that if it comes down to a war for the future of psis, Majestrix Kyia and Queen Artela will be on their side, and will help to defend them from those who would deny their right to live. Whether these Immortal women can convince their Mundane subjects to feel the same way is a question no one is sure they can answer.