The Witchery of Psi
Psi And You
So, your neighbor is a psi -- what do you do? The truth is that there is a simple answer, but it's hard to recognize sometimes. Certainly there are a variety of opinions throughout the Known Worlds and even beyond on how to treat psychic individuals. There are some indications that certain Houses have rich histories of using psychic individuals- they are used as part of the Jackovian intelligence system, the Dervishes exist as a semi-legitimate part of every House military, and the Republican leanings of the Guilds sometimes indicate they are open-minded about psychics among them.
General Attitudes Towards Psi
All of this is misleading. Reading theme closer tells a much darker story of the fate of psis in the known worlds.
The Known Worlders don't have second edition rule books. This sounds preposterous, but it's important to say nonetheless. No one, save for the most well-versed psychics and coven-leaders, really understands the limitations or powers that psychics possess. Is it possible for psychics to read your mind without you knowing? Is it possible for them to control you? Can they unlock your door without a key? Can they cause your crops to die out? Can - no, did - they make your grandmother sick?
The answer is a disturbing 'maybe?' to everyone (and this includes even the most well educated nobleman or guilder). It's hard for us to appreciate how horrifically frightening a universe with psychics in it might be - we simply have no comparisons to draw from. Imagine, if you can, that your neighbor can make you do whatever he wants you to do - mow his lawn, dance naked in the street...kill your own husband or wife. All he has to do is ask, and you will. Let that thought roll around in your head for a few moments. Think about how you would deal with this situation.
And then ask yourself if, among the solutions that inevitably popped into your head, one of the following was on the list - Move away. Avoid him completely. Kill him.
Now you understand how everyone deals with psychics in the Known Worlds.
Of course noblemen can't kill other noblemen who are open psychics. But they can easily shun and avoid them. Outed psychics among the upper class quickly find themselves running short on friends - and a nobleman with few friends is in grave danger from the Church.
Guilders are no better - Is a psychic merchant making more money because he has superior wares, or is he using his -powers-? Is that psychic Engineer really a better craftsman, or is he just using his telepathy to steal your genius? There is little tolerance for psychics among the League.
"But they aren't all bad!" you may be thinking to yourself. "Surely they can't all mess with my mind! Some might have good uses!" And you're right. Looking at the rule book, there are certainly a number of very advantageous things that psychics can do- A farsight/farsound psychic spy could easily eavesdrop on secret conversations. A vis-craft specialist could destroy enemy power systems and disrupt communications. Soma and Bedlam warriors are without equal. Why not use them?
You don't use them because you never know.
You never know when the spy is actually spying on you. Or when your thoughts are really your own. Or when these trained psychic warriors or terrorists will turn on you.
So what happens when your neighbor is a psi: The answer depends a bit on who you are, and who your neighbor is. But there are two general solutions - either you go away or you force him to go away. Normally, if the neighbor is a peasant or serf, the message is hammered home when a gang of people knock down his door and beat him to within an inch of his life. If the neighbor is a guilder - well, it might be a larger gang of people, or people might just stop buying anything from him.
And if the neighbor is a noble...well, there are cases of peasants rising up in rebellion against their sorcerous leaders. Certainly other Nobles avoid psychics like the plague - nobles, and many high ranking guild and Church leaders, live lives that necessitate secrecy and diplomacy. Psychics pose a very real threat to that.
Essentially, the point that must be hammered home is that there is no such thing as a 'run of the mill' psychic. One doesn't hire psychics to do psychic only work. One doesn't employ them openly, and if one does one must expect horrible censure from the Church, from the people, and most importantly from one's peers.
It is true that there are groups which are recognized as psychic organizations around the Empire. Each of these have strict rules governing them and their presence, however.
The first and most obvious are the Penitents. Church psychics are perhaps the -only- truly legitimate psychics allowed, and even then nobles and guilders (and freemen and peasants, and serfs) -hate- penitents. Sure, some might think that these wretched creatures, oftentimes little more than broken husks of men, are harmless and put to good use serving the Church to redeem for their blackened and tainted souls. But the aspects of the Church which create and control the penitents is also the aspect of the church that is most brutal in its adherence to dogma, and, hypocritically, also the most political.
So while perhaps there are some penitents serving rural parishes in places, using their powers to earn the trust of the locals and helping out, these penitents are few and far between. Instead, what is most common are the psychic spies and infiltrators, using their powers openly to confirm the faith of random people, often against their will.
And strangely the mortality rate on Church penitents, like Temple Avesti, is very high.
It's no matter, of course - the Church doesn't really care if one more psychic dies.
What about spies? Psychic spies are the wet-dream of every intelligence agency across the galaxy. Surely the Decados, with their loose grasp on morality, would gather up some? Once they do, no other group could afford to fall behind in that race.
The truth is that the Decados are very, very careful with their psychics. They have a breeding program (and indeed all of the Major Houses and even many of the major guilds have invested in some manner of psychic spies), but the spies that they create aren't public. Moreover they are rare, precious commodities that are never truly trusted. Psychics at one point nearly took over House Decados and ever since then psychic spies, trained to infiltrate and subvert, are some of the most regulated and watched individuals in the intelligence agencies.
Though House Decados has been burned once now by their psychic programs bad enough to fully appreciate the fire they play with, other Houses are similarly worried. Their utility is undeniable, but so are the risks. Spies regularly interact with individuals who possess highly important organizational secrets, and most agencies are aware of psychic-only entities like the Favyana and the Invisible Path. There is always the danger of psychic spies turning on their masters, either because of a radical ideology or because of a large paycheck.
In general the social status of Psychic Spies is a bit of a moot point - they must hide their psychic status along with their spy status. If either is uncovered, they are rendered largely useless. An outed psychic is avoided and distrusted by those that know of his status, and an outed spy is of no use to the intelligence community he serves.
Dervishi! - the war cry of warrior psychics. Certainly, every House has a few, though none quite so many as the Hazat. But let's also reflect that every house also fielded Grimsons, and cyber-warriors, and alien regiments. Dervishes are not so different from these groups.
Many Dervishes were folded into the penitents after the wars, some given plots of lands where they could work the remainder of their days in the relative isolation of rural life. Still others work as mercenaries. But it is important to understand that they never -integrate- into society. Dervishes are tolerated by the population only in that they mostly stay amongst themselves (which is worrisome to a great many people in its own right).
Dervishes aren't ever regular people, but they are protected generally by their aloofness and the fact that their martial prowess serves as a powerful deterrent against violence. Even still, Dervishes get more than a few jump crosses burned in their fields or rocks through their windows.
Finally, there are the silver-haired minor House Thana. They are a bit of an oddity in that they are all psychics. From what is said above one might conclude that they would be universally shunned and avoided and indeed that's certainly not an uncommon issue that a Thana noble must deal with.
House Thana enjoys a small exception to the general rule - they have carved out a place for themselves as beautiful pieces of living art that are something of collector's pieces among powerful lord's and lady's retinues. House Thana enjoys the protection of being considered harmless and powerless, even if that assumption is not necessarily true. Their presence is not a comfortable one in most courts - few Thana exist as courtiers in conservative households among the Hazat, Hawkwood, or Li Halan. Still, there are decadent lords and ladies of other courts, particularly the more libertine al-Malik and Decados, that enjoy either the philosophical nature and artistic temperament of Thana nobles, or alternately the sense of the exotic and rare these nobles bring.
That said, there are an awful lot of Thana nobles who have found the Pancreator, willingly or no, and wear the weeping jumpcross of the penitents.
There are a few exceptions to the general rules above- psychics who enjoy a degree of trust and even acceptance in their community. This kind of egalitarian ethos is uncommon at the dawn of the end of the Fifth Millennium. Where it exists there are usually more pressing concerns than the danger of psychics; people beset by dark powers, shapeshifting monsters, and other nightmares from between the stars cannot afford the luxury of selecting their friends.