Gina tried again to read this woman’s mind.
And the rocket’s red glare,
The bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof to the night
That our flag was still there…
The lady in black pulled out a battered, old pocket watch, twisted the dial, and vanished in an eerie flash; but before she left, Gina caught a brief glimpse into her mind. Behind the music, she dwelled on strange memories of time travel, cyborgs, and a graveyard–a graveyard for all the people Gina Zaphiro, the President’s sister, had killed.
“No,” Gina said, “that’s impossible.”
“That’s her!” someone shouted. “She tried to shoot the President! Get her!”
Gina glanced back and saw a red stone hurling through the air. It smashed into her face.
* * *
For a moment, Gina went deaf and blind, unable to feel or taste or smell. She lost her telepathic abilities as well. In thirty-nine years, she’d never enjoyed such quiet bliss, liberated from all sensations. But then the dream began.
Earth floated in space with Reggie standing upon it, his feet planted firmly on its eroding continents. The Sun glowed bright behind him, the planets Venus and Mercury drifted by, and tiny stars sparkled in the coldness beyond. Seeing Reggie in this gigantic form, Gina remembered the myth of Atlas, but Atlas was condemned to carry the Earth on his back, not stand atop it like a conqueror.
“Hello, sister,” Reggie said, and Gina glanced down to see that she stood on the surface of Mars. But she was a puny human, a mere mortal surrounded by the Martian wastelands.
“So you admit I’m your sister?” Gina asked, looking back into space, back at the Earth and its master.
“I am willing to put the past behind us,” Reggie said.
Reggie chuckled. “Still a feisty one, aren’t you, little sister?”
“We’re the same age, Reggie. We’re twins. If you want to get technical, I was born forty-two seconds before you.”
Reggie reached across the void, grabbing hold of Mars. His thumb nearly squashed Gina. Instead, it covered Olympus Mons, the largest mountain on Mars–the largest mountain in the Solar System. He squeezed, and the mountain crumbled.
Reggie pulled Mars closer and held it at eye level.
“You and I had an agreement,” Gina said. “You could do whatever you wanted with Earth. I’d leave. I’d start a new life. You could have Earth if you just let me have Mars.”
“Yes, that is what you said before running away, but I never said I agreed to your terms.”
Gina kicked at the red soil beneath her feet. “Damn it, Reggie. Even as a kid, you could never play fair.”
Reggie glared down at her, his eyes filling the sky.
“Play fair?” he said. “I still remember the games we played when we were little. Back then, you were the stronger telepath.”
Gina shook her head. “That’s not true.”
“I had planned to kill you, little sister. Regardless of our ages, you are my little sister now. But I still have use for you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Who is the lady in black?”
“I don’t know.”
“You recognized her. She sings an ancient song. She focuses so much on it she blocks telepathic access to her mind. But I see into your thoughts. You recognized her.”
“I don’t know who she is.”
“Then I will wait until you figure it out.”
Reggie released Mars from his grasp, and Gina felt a tingling sensation as though her circulation had been cut off then suddenly restored. She gasped, realizing she no longer stood on a planet but drifted through space, falling into darker dreams.
* * *
“Are you okay?” a childish voice said, drawing Gina from her slumber. She retained a faint impression from her dreams–something about–mountains–and Reggie’s thumb.
“You kept screaming in your sleep,” the child said, and Gina felt small hands remove tape from her mouth. “I was worried they might hear.”
Gina opened her eyes and found a freckled girl leaning over her. She wore tin foil around her head.
“You were with the protestors?” Gina asked.
The girl glanced at a pile of singed poster board on a nearby table.
Gina attempted to piece together what had happened. She lay on the floor, tangled in Mylar sheets. An overturned cot lay beside her, and the girl said she’d been screaming in her sleep. Had she been thrashing about while unconscious as well? Was she waking up or emerging from insanity?
She appeared to be in an underground cave, one of many carved by ancient lava flows in this region of Mars. Based on all the obsolete equipment around her, Gina guessed this had been part of the original colony, possibly one of the labs where they’d studied Martian bacteria. How had this fragile-looking child brought her here alone? How had they escaped the angry mob?
Gina felt dull pains throughout her body. Bruises were forming on her arms and legs, and blood had soaked most of her clothes.
“I didn’t see what happened,” the girl said. “You were yelling for them to stop, but they kept beating you with rocks, and one of them had a shovel.”
“I don’t remember anything after the first stone hit me,” Gina said.
“You were yelling the whole time so loud it was like I heard it inside my own head.”
“I’m so sorry.”
Gina closed her eyes. Sensing the thoughts of others was harmless, but altering those thoughts–whether for good or evil–produced unintended consequences.
In her moment of terror, Gina must have acted on instinct, calling for help telepathically. This child who’d eluded Reggie’s influence had responded.
“What’s your name?” Gina asked.
Skyler must have changed, some of her qualities enhanced and others diminished, and she’d never even notice the difference. Gina could only hope the change was positive.
“I already know your name,” Skyler said. “You’re Gina Zaphiro. I saw you on the news. Tomorrow, you’re going to kill the President.”
Gina opened her eyes. Skyler got up and walked to the other side of the cave. A viewlink hung from the wall showing nothing but static.
“You’ve heard of the Tomorrow News Network, right?” Skyler said. “They transmit the news backward through time. Anyone can see it except the people involved in the story. I mean if they let you and I see whatever they’re showing right now it could create a time travel paradox or something.”
Gina slumped against the cot. She’d done a chapter on chronotheory, on time travel science, in high school physics. It made no sense to her, so she’d stolen the answers from the teacher’s mind.
The viewlink cleared. It showed the streets of Rome, New York, and Tokyo full of rioters and Earth Republic police.
“On Earth,” a voice from the viewlink said, “reaction to the death of President Zaphiro will turn violent. The bloodshed will be unlike anything seen on that planet since–well–since Reginald Zaphiro began his campaign for one world government. It will be as though, after a decade of peace, all the peoples of Earth will remember why they hated each other and pick up where they left off.”
The image cut to the Tomorrow News Network’s anchor desk. An android sat behind it.
“We know a great deal about the President,” the android said, “but his sister, the woman who will assassinate him, is a mystery. We now go to Talie Tappler for this report. Talie?”
The viewlink cut to static again. Skyler grabbed the remote and pounded its buttons.
“Ugh! This is so frustrating! They let us know you kill him but not how.”
“Skyler, why didn’t those people finish me off?” Gina asked.
“I shouted at them,” Skyler said, abandoning the remote and trying the controls on the viewlink itself. “I told them to stop, and they did. They all stepped back, and they had these polite smiles like they were really sorry. My brother helped me carry you.”
“Yeah, he’s over there guarding the door.”
Gina propped herself up to see over the edge of the cot. A young, freckled boy sat on a stool near the entrance of the cave, dried blood splattered on his clothes. Like his sister, he wore a tin foil hat. He watched Gina, a twisted sneer on his lips.
Gina sank back to the floor. She would not scan the boy’s mind. She would not read his thoughts for fear someone else was already inside.
“Cole, introduce yourself,” Skyler said.
Cole didn’t speak.
“Cole’s really smart,” Skyler said. “He’s the reason I was even at that protest. He’s really into politics, and he wrote a letter to the editor at Mars Daily Press, and they published it. It was called ‘Death to History’ and was about how the pro-Earth party says joining the Earth Republic is our historic destiny, but just because something’s historic doesn’t mean it’s good.
“I couldn’t believe it when he started burning his sign. My brother, a unificationist? No way.”
“I told my little sister I’d finally seen the light,” Cole explained. Something in his tone, in the words “little sister,” reminded Gina of her dreams.