For a moment, Gina glimpsed an image in Cognis’s mind. Computer code resolved into a picture, a recording of the present moment. She saw a woman, her dark hair matted and tangled, her skin–once a beautiful, coppery tone–now sickly and sallow. In her eyes, she saw agonizing despair.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Gina said.
“Are you certain?”
Gina nodded, choking on her fear.
In an eerie flash, the cyborg disappeared, and Gina found herself under attack–not from the officers with their class-5 lasers but from Reggie himself. Gina screamed. It felt as though Reggie had cracked her skull open with a hammer and was now sticking his fingers into her brain.
“Useless,” he mumbled as he rummaged through her thoughts. “Useless, useless, and… hmm… useless. You’ll have to do better than this, little sister.”
Tears streaming down her face, Gina started to sing, trying to block him out, “Oh say can you see…”
“Don’t bother,” Reggie said. “You don’t have what I need yet.”
* * *
Since fleeing Earth, Gina had led a solitary life. She’d avoided others, afraid her telepathy might affect them, afraid her mere presence would taint them somehow. She hid in dark alleys, ate stolen food, and slept in different places each night. So as she ran through the open streets, passing dozens of colonists she recognized, no one recognized her.
She felt dizzy. Her legs ached, and some of her wounds had reopened, but she forced herself to keep going.
Forgetting again about Martian gravity, Gina slipped and fell, landing on her hands and knees, scraping her palms on rust-colored gravel.
Gina glanced back at the enforcement officers, still marching behind her.
“Go away!” she yelled.
They did not comply.
“Either go away or shoot me! I don’t care which!”
They didn’t answer. They came to a halt, waiting for Gina to get up.
Sweat drenched Gina’s face. She tasted its saltiness on her lips. Her arms trembled, unable to support her, and a sharp pain stabbed into her side. A broken rib, perhaps. She tried to stand, aware of all the curious eyes watching, but her strength faltered.
“Get up,” the ten officers said. Gina chuckled at their impatience. “Get up!” they said.
“Or what?” she asked.
A crowd was gathering, all dressed in happy greens and yellows and reds. Gina sensed their individual thoughts, and she sensed Reggie encroaching upon them.
Some of the officers grabbed Gina, trying to lift her up. She kicked and clawed at them. “Don’t touch me!” she yelled, but they ignored her.
“DON’T TOUCH ME!!!” she shrieked, her words accompanied by a telepathic scream, but the officers only pressed closer.
Like a wild beast tormented beyond the ability to feel pain, Gina fought back. Without restraint, she tore into their minds, burning synapses, incapacitating motor functions, and shutting down their hearts. When she shoved the officers away, they collapsed in a heap of tangled arms and legs.
In that moment, Gina felt like a true daughter of Mars–a true daughter of the god of war. She was savage, powerful, and bloodthirsty. No longer would she run, no longer would she cower in shadows, no longer would she fear her little brother.
“Reggie!” she shouted at the sky.
In disjointed hallucinations, she saw him first as a child throwing a tantrum then as a giant in the Solar System, hurling planets around.
“Useless!” he said. “You’re useless, Gina! I need the woman in black! I need you to bring her to me!”
Gina sneered at him. “No,” she answered.
Glass shattered. Gina saw two boys breaking windows and gathering the pieces.
“Cooperate,” Reggie said.
“Cooperate,” the crowd echoed, their numbers growing as more people came, running from side streets or stepping out from their homes. Some carried knives: kitchen knives, steak knives, antique hunting knives. The boys began handing out shards of glass to those who were unarmed, and somewhere among this horde Gina heard more glass breaking.
At least two hundred people surrounded Gina, their blades gleaming, but it didn’t matter if Reggie sent two thousand or two million. Gina would not surrender.
“Cooperate,” the crowd said.
“Fuck you, Reggie,” Gina answered.
The crowd smiled. They all, each and every one, had Reggie’s same bashful grin.
“Then let this be on your conscience,” they said, and in one motion they all raised their weapons, and in one motion they all slit their own throats.
* * *
Gina sank to her knees. Over two hundred corpses lay in circles around her.
For a brief moment, she’d become a killer. She’d slaughtered ten innocent people with nothing more than her mind, and she hadn’t felt one iota of guilt. In a similar way, Reggie had slaughtered hundreds. Back on Earth, he’d probably killed hundreds or even thousands more with no regrets.
Gina covered her face and began to cry.
“Oh thus be it ever,” a feminine voice said, “when free man shall stand between their loved home and the war’s desolation.”
Gina looked up to find the woman in black standing over her, her violet eyes shining through her dark veil. Cognis stood two steps behind her.
“Who are you?” Gina asked without thinking.
The woman smirked. “I’m Talie Tappler. I’m a reporter from the future, and I’ve come to do a story about you.”
“Your cyborg already interviewed me.”
“He took care of some preliminary stuff,” Talie said. “I’m here to ask the real, hard-hitting questions. Actually, I’m here to ask only one question.”
Talie knelt beside Gina, gazing at her with those impossibly violet eyes. Cognis crouched next to her and said he was rolling.
“Ms. Zaphiro,” Talie said, “why is your brother crazy?”
“How should I know?” Gina snapped.
“Because you were there when it happened.”
Gina flinched. She turned away from Talie, unable to meet her penetrating stare.
Martian soil wasn’t really red. It was more of a ruddy tan color. But in this street, covered with the dead, the ground was turning deep crimson. This, Gina realized, was her fault. It was on her conscience–not because Reggie said so–but because she knew it in her heart. Telepaths could not erase their own memories, as Cognis suggested, but like any other human they could lie to themselves.
Except Gina couldn’t lie any more.
“I did this,” she said, glancing at Cognis’s camera eye. “I tampered with Reggie’s mind when we were kids. I broke grandma Zaphiro’s urn, and I made Reggie believe he’d done it. When I did bad things in school, I made Reggie take the blame. Sometimes I had Reggie do bad things for me so no one would suspect.
“I didn’t realize…” Gina sniffled. “I didn’t know the damage I caused. I kept manipulating him, sometimes just because I was bored. I didn’t realize until it was too late–that by making him believe all those horrible things about himself–that he could become…”
Gina turned away from the camera and wiped her eyes.
“I did this!” she wailed, staring at the vast expanse of bodies around her.
“You can stop recording now,” Talie said. “We have what we need.”
“Yes, Ms. Tappler.”
Gina heard them get up.
“Will we interview the President next?” Cognis inquired.
“Yes,” Talie said.
Gina leapt to her feet. She turned on Talie, grabbing her by the shoulders.
“I’m a journalist,” Talie said, a serene smile on her lips. “I have a duty to show both sides.”
“He’ll get inside your brain,” Gina said. “A catchy tune won’t be enough to stop him! Not if you’re that close! He’ll know everything you know about the future!”
“Yes,” Talie said, “but you’ll kill him before he can act on that knowledge. And–this is my favorite part–I know you’ll assassinate him, but I don’t know how. So neither will he.”
Talie laughed and freed herself from Gina’s grasp. She pulled an old pocket watch from the folds of her black dress and twisted the dial.
“Good luck,” Talie said. “The future is counting on you.”
In an eerie flash, the cyborg and the woman in black disappeared.
“Gina!” a small voice yelled. “GINA!”
Dust swirled through the air, forming ghostly shapes around Gina as though the spirits of the dead lingered over their bodies. The empty street had a strange, dreamlike quality, and Gina half expected to see Earth in the sky with her brother standing upon it.
He’d wanted Talie. He’d wanted a time traveler, and he’d used Gina to get one.
“GINAAAA!!!” the small voice cried again, getting closer.
“Skyler?” Gina said, seeing the girl sprinting toward her, her tin foil cap still on her head.
“You forgot your gun!” Skyler shouted, holding the weapon up.
Skyler charged through the dust clouds, and the ghostly shapes seemed to flee before her. She tripped on one of the bodies but didn’t fall. She just kept running.
“How… how did you find me?” Gina said.
“I heard you screaming,” Skyler said.
Skyler hopped over a few more bodies until she stood with Gina at the center of the carnage. In triumph, she offered Gina her gun.
“Skyler,” Gina said, “you know I killed your brother.”
“Yup,” Skyler answered. “You did it to save me. I figured everything out. You have mind control powers, just like the President, but that’s okay. I trust you.”