“But he’s back to normal now,” Skyler said. “I think the President has some kind of mind control device. That explains why everyone acted weird. I read in history class the ancient Earthlings made tin foil hats to protect themselves from mind control. So far, it seems to be working.”
Skyler touched her head. The foil crinkled under her hand.
“So how are you going to kill the President?” Skyler asked. “I’m dying to know!”
“I planned to shoot him.”
“Oh!” Skyler looked at her brother. “Cole’s got your gun!”
“I… umm… forgot where I put it,” Cole said.
Gina heard him get up, the stool scratching across the metallic floor.
“I’ll make you a hat,” Skyler said, “so they can’t get you.”
“Are you sure those work?” Gina asked as Cole shambled by, looking left and right, left and right, but not seeing.
“Of course they do!” Skyler said. “The ancient Earthlings knew all kinds of things we modern humans forgot.”
Skyler sat down at one of the lab tables. She’d found a big roll of foil in storage, and Gina sensed the girl counted it as her greatest stroke of luck yet.
“Oh, Skyler,” Gina whispered, “I’m so sorry.”
With the murkiness of sleep gone, Gina could see all the damage she’d done in Skyler’s mind. In her desperation, Gina had needed someone to trust her, to trust a presidential assassin. Young Skyler, who already feared the President and even suspected the truth about him, had responded to Gina’s summons. Now she trusted everyone. She trusted Gina. She trusted the wisdom of the ancients. She trusted her brainwashed brother.
Gina dragged herself to her feet. She had to get out of that cave before Cole found her blaster. And for some reason she felt a pressing urge to search for the woman in black.
“Where are you going?” Skyler cried out.
“I have to leave,” Gina said.
“Just trust me,” Gina answered.
Skyler’s next objection died instantly. “Okay,” she said with a bright smile.
“Oh wait!” Cole said. “I just realized I had your gun in my jacket pocket this whole time.”
A gleeful expression on his face, Cole reached into his inside pocket and removed Gina’s blaster. He examined it from every angle until he found the safety and switched it off. Then he aimed at Skyler.
“We cannot threaten your life,” Cole explained, “but if you care for this child you will agree to take us with you.”
“Cole, what are you doing?” Skyler said with a laugh.
“Reggie, this isn’t a game anymore,” Gina said.
“No, it’s not. This is war. It has been since I made your boyfriend commit suicide in 11th grade. It has been since I erased you from our parents’ memories, and they kicked you out for trespassing. It has been since I exiled you to Mars and ordered you never to return.”
“I came here of my own free will,” Gina said.
“Sure you did.”
Gina remembered that day so well. She stowed away on a cargo transport, sending Reggie one last email before lift off, warning him to leave her alone. She’d done those things. She’d made those decisions herself!
“Permit us to accompany you,” Reggie said through Cole’s lips, “or the girl dies.”
Gina shut her eyes and attacked, throwing all her mental energy at the boy holding the gun. With silent words, she repeated a simple statement in his mind: “You love your sister. You love your sister.”
Reggie laughed. “Do you think you can command me, little sister? Order me to love you? That won’t work anymore.”
“It wasn’t meant for you,” Gina replied. When she opened her eyes, she saw Cole pointing the blaster at his own head.
“Skyler, I love you so much,” he said. “I won’t let him hurt you.”
Cole pulled the trigger.
“No!” Skyler screamed.
One dead. Gina remembered the graveyard in that strange woman’s memory. Which tombstone had Cole’s name?
Gina turned and ran. Reggie’s minions would come. They might be outside already.
The underground lab was sealed with pressurized airlocks, a relic from an era before the oxygenation of Mars’s atmosphere. Gina pushed through the airlock, fighting another headache and the pain in her battered, bruised legs. She ran into the street, crashing into a heavy, muscular man and falling flat on her back.
“You must be Ms. Zaphiro,” the man said in a monotone voice. “My name is Mr. Cognis. I work for the Tomorrow News Network. May I ask a few questions?”
Gina shielded her eyes from the sun and looked up at a man who was half machine. Wires and circuitry ran under his skin, diagnostic devices and control panels poked through his clothing, and a giant camera replaced his right eye, wrapping partway around his bald head.
“Wait,” Gina said. “I’ve seen you before.”
* * *
Gina was seven the first time. She and Reggie were at a playground. They’d just discovered their special talents and were having fun stealing secrets from the other kids. When they noticed the cyborg watching, they tried to pry into his thoughts too, but found only computer code.
Weeks later, when Reggie took the blame for breaking grandma Zaphiro’s urn, Gina saw the cyborg again. And another time when Reggie got in trouble at school, and another when he admitted to taking money from father’s wallet. Even that day in 11th grade when Gina’s boyfriend killed himself–the cyborg was there. Sometimes a blonde woman accompanied him.
“I’ve seen you before,” Gina said, struggling back to her feet. “And the lady in black–I’ve seen her with you.”
“Correct,” Cognis said.
“Who is she?”
“I am not authorized to tell you.”
“Who is she!” Gina demanded, grabbing Cognis by the shirt and directing all her telepathic might against him.
The cyborg gently pushed her away. Although she could read his thoughts, she couldn’t interpret or manipulate them. Cognis flicked a switch on his arm, and the words “Activate program: sympathy” flashed through his mind, but everything else was raw data, the language of machines. Digging deeper, Gina heard nothing more than zeroes and ones.
“I apologize,” Cognis said. “Everyone is safer if her identity remains uncertain.”
Cognis flicked the switch again, turning his “sympathy” off.
“Will you consent to an interview?” he asked.
“Why should I?”
“Because you want to tell your side of the story,” Cognis said. “Tomorrow, you will kill the President. That is a historical fact, and nothing short of a major disruption of the space-time continuum will change it. But how do you want history to judge you?”
Gina laughed. “I’ll be remembered with Lee Harvy Oswald, John Wilkes Booth, and Marcus Junius Brutus. History will call me a villain, and history will be right.”
Gina and Cognis stood in an abandoned district of the colony. Modular buildings surrounded them, weather worn by sand and wind, their metal parts corroding away while structures manufactured with newer, more permanent technology towered in the distance. Yet even in this forsaken place, they were not alone.
Ten had come. They wore the uniforms of colonial law enforcement, but more important was the uniformity of their minds. These men and women, armed with class-5 laser rifles, served the President of Earth and the President of Earth alone.
“Wait,” Reggie commanded from miles away, and they waited.
“You want my side of the story?” Gina said, more to the enforcement officers than Cognis. “Fine. I don’t care about peace on Earth, the end of war and poverty, or the ‘brotherhood of all mankind.’ You have no idea what Reggie has done to make all that happen. How he’s enslaved humanity.
“He’s a telepath just like me. I’d say there are less than a dozen real telepaths alive today, and he’s the strongest of them all. Not only can he read your thoughts; he can change them. He can make you believe what he wants you to believe, make you do what he wants you to do. He’s not the democratically elected President of Earth; he’s a tyrant ruling a kingdom of mindless zombies.”
Gina pointed at the ten officers. “Reggie!” she shouted. “You said this is war. You’re right. This is the most important war in human history: the war between you and me. No bombs, no armies, no battlefields. Just you and me.
“And when I kill you, the spell will break and everyone will see you for what you really are: a frickin’ psychopath.”
“Very good, little sister,” the enforcement officers said in chorus. “You’d make a decent politician with speeches like that, but you overlooked one detail: I do have an army.”
One by one, the officers raised their laser rifles, activating the targeting sensors and releasing the safeties.
Gina stepped back. She couldn’t tell if Reggie was mocking her or if he really intended to open fire. She vaguely remembered he wanted her alive for some reason.
“Ms. Zaphiro,” Cognis said, “as a time traveler, I know a few moments into the future you will be forced to run for your life, but I have one more question.”
Gina took another step back, watching as the ten officers stepped forward in unison.
“If a telepath can alter other people’s thoughts,” Cognis said, “could she also alter her own?”
All of Gina’s attention snapped back to Cognis. “What do you mean?” she said.
“Could you, for example, erase your own memories? Memories you don’t want to keep?”