On the top floor of a weather control tower, Gina crouched beneath a narrow window, conducting surveillance on the minds below. She’d grown strong enough as a telepath to peer into the thoughts of others without a direct line of sight, to hear their secrets without being in earshot.
From her discrete location, she sensed all the emotions of those gathered in the streets awaiting the President of Earth. They all wanted to see him. Even those who disliked his policies were caught up in the excitement.
The ancient Greeks had pioneered the city-state. Later generations would build nation-states, and now humanity had created its first planet-state: the United Earth Republic. One man had brought that world’s many warring countries together under one flag, and ten billion grateful people had elected him as their first president. Now he’d come to Mars to spread his message of unity and incite the colonists to join his “brotherhood of all mankind.”
Gina rested her head against the wall, trying to suppress the pain inside her skull. She held a blaster pistol in her lap. Despite years of practice, it still felt wrong in her hands–too heavy, too cold. But she had to do this. She had no choice.
The noise in the streets rose to a cheer. Space Force One had landed; soon, the President would make his appearance. With slow, cautious motions, Gina unlocked the window and slid it open. Keeping low to the floor, she peeked out and searched for her target.
Dignitaries representing the various independent governments of Mars stood on a stage erected outside the spaceport. Gina noted the podium, flanked by the blue flag of Earth on one side and the red flag of Mars on the other. She aimed there.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” an amplified voice said, “the President of the Earth Republic: Reginald Zaphiro!”
Reggie emerged from one of the spaceport’s archways. He walked with the awkward, bouncing pace of someone unaccustomed to Mars’s low gravity. He waived at the assembled masses and blew them kisses, a gesture which had become one of his political signatures. The dignitaries crowded around him, and he shook their hands and accepted their welcome.
Aside from his age, Reggie looked much the same as Gina remembered: tall, bronze-skinned, with slick, wavy hair. His mannerisms seemed right. He had the same bashful smile, the same rustic informality. But Gina didn’t recognize the psychology of this man. His imagination was too small, his intellect too simple.
As the President’s body double approached the podium, Gina dropped back into cover, but she knew she’d been spotted. The President’s guards were watching, their disciplined minds nearly invisible among the cheering crowd. One had seen her. She caught the image in his mind: the open window, the barrel of a gun. He whispered into a voicelink, and Gina sensed other minds on high alert scrambling toward her position.
In the distance, she found the real Reggie, safely inside Space Force One. He was laughing at her.
“My fellow humans,” the fake President said, “two centuries ago your ancestors came to this planet to start a new civilization. In our shortsightedness, we the people of Earth neglected you. We became consumed in our economic troubles and failed to provide the support you deserved. Today that changes.
“I pray you can forgive our misdeeds. We all made errors–that is human nature–but the citizens of Earth and the citizens of Mars belong to one family, and family must stick together.”
The crowd roared with applause, and Gina heard them all think as one, “Yes, we belong to one family.”
Did no one else find it strange that the exact same words repeated at the exact same time within hundreds of human brains? Did no one else wonder how so many minds could form identical thoughts? But of course no one except a telepath would notice.
Gina crawled away from the narrow window. A squad had entered the building. She sensed their vigilance. They advanced in small groups, covering each other, checking corners, scanning ahead for heat or motion.
Climbing to her feet, Gina hurried toward the stairs. In her haste, she fell into old habits, running as she would on Earth. Each step pushed her too high, and her feet descended too slowly back to the floor.
“Movement above us,” someone said. “She’s on the top level.”
The soldiers had deactivated the lift and were ascending both stairwells. They had Gina trapped.
Gina stopped to regain her balance. Walking at a pace more appropriate for one-third standard gravity, she went to the weather tower’s heat pump, opened an access hatch, and slipped inside. The small chamber’s warmth would conceal her body heat.
The squad arrived, branching out across the top floor. “Anything?” the sergeant demanded.
“Nothing,” the sensor tech answered.
“Search the room. She couldn’t have snuck by us.”
Gina forced herself to remain calm. She avoided motion, despite the pulsing heat of the machinery around her, despite the sweat trickling down her face.
The hatch clicked and swung open. A soldier stood outside, his weapon ready, a targeting scanner glowing blue over his eye. For a moment, he and Gina stared at each other, but this was one of the best-trained, most overconfident soldiers in the team. Gina did more than read his thoughts; she reached out and touched his mind. With a gentle nudge, she altered his perception. The man did not doubt himself, did not question what he saw: an empty maintenance compartment.
When the hatch clicked shut, Gina closed her eyes and ordered herself not to cry. She’d taken advantage of that soldier’s arrogance, and he’d become more arrogant because of it. From his brief contact with a telepath, his ego would expand and his better qualities would wither. In his pride and self-importance, he’d probably get himself killed one day.
“No sign of the suspect.”
“She’s got to be here,” the sergeant said. “Search again.”
Gina bit her lip and reached out for the sensor tech’s mind. She tried to ignore his name and personality. She just planted an idea in his head and withdrew.
“Motion on the roof,” the tech said.
As the squad cleared out, following an imaginary blip on the tech’s screen, Gina opened the hatch and crept toward the stairs. She retained a lingering impression of the sensor tech, how he depended on his equipment too much–and how he’d lose touch with his human instincts over time.
Gina encountered a few guards on her way down. The sergeant had left them to prevent her escape. Gina tampered with them as she passed, accentuating their flaws to her advantage, leaving them less like themselves. Only security cameras, with their mindless circuitry, observed her as she exited the tower.
* * *
Outside, Gina heard the crowd, their voices raised in glorious acclamation, and she sensed their uniform thoughts chanting, “Zaphiro! Zaphiro! Zaphiro!” Though Gina’s power had increased since leaving Earth, Reggie’s had multiplied beyond her comprehension. She’d learned to manipulate two or three minds at once, but he’d constructed a psychic link to hundreds of people and now guided them like a conductor guiding an orchestra.
A group of protestors, dressed in patriotic red, had started a fire to burn their own signs. Slogans like “Earth Republic equals slavery” and “Save our Mars” disappeared into ash and smoke. A young girl, maybe thirteen years old, tried to stop them, screaming something about history. In a zombie-like trance, they ignored her.
Gina had to get out of range before Reggie launched an attack against her, seizing control of her the way he had so many others. She already felt him probing her weaknesses. How far did she need to go? What limits did he have? She could tell a part of him still exerted influence over the whole population of Earth even from 200 million miles away.
Gina felt dizzy and her head hurt. No amount of distance would save her from Reggie. He’d find her. He’d torment her, and then he’d kill her.
People sometimes spoke of small-mindedness. Gina had discovered the term was literal. Some possessed minds of miniscule proportions while others had vast labyrinths sprawling through their heads. As Gina monitored the minds around her, she saw those of Reggie’s victims shrink, crushed under his dominance.
Only a few avoided it. Some at the fringe of Gina’s awareness hadn’t attended the President’s speech. Others like that young girl held too tightly to their beliefs. And one giant mind somewhere nearby–somehow it remained free as well.
Gina tried to listen, to hear if this large minded person constituted a threat, but she only heard music–loud, off-key music.
Oh say can you see
By the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed
At the twilight’s last gleaming…
Gina shook her head. The singing–the terrible singing–she couldn’t get past it.
A woman stood in the shade of the weather tower. She wore all black, clashing against the vibrant colors that were in fashion on Mars. A dark veil obscured her face, but Gina saw a predatory grin on her lips. Her blonde curls hung in an oddly familiar style.