“Did it occur to you that I made you trust me?” Gina asked.
Based on the activity in Skyler’s brain, Gina knew she hadn’t thought of that.
“That’s okay,” Skyler said. “I’m happier this way.”
Gina shut her eyes and tried to shut down her other senses as well. But she still felt Skyler’s overwhelming happiness and eagerness to help as though these emotions were too big for her small mind to contain.
“I think I know what you have to do,” Skyler said, removing her tin foil hat. “I volunteer. Turn me into whatever you need me to be.”
“No!” Gina said.
“Please,” Skyler begged. “For Cole.”
Gina shook her head. She couldn’t do it. It was so cruel, and yet Skyler was so determined to help.
“I’m so sorry,” Gina said, pulling the girl close, hugging her.
Beneath Skyler’s joy and enthusiasm, Gina found something else: the desire for vengeance. Skyler loved and trusted the whole universe–except Reggie. For him, she felt nothing but hate. This was an emotion Gina could use.
“I’m sorry,” Gina mumbled as she entered Skyler’s mind. “I’m so sorry.”
* * *
When they made that graveyard for everyone Gina had killed, there would be no room for Reggie. He’d become a monster, and not all of it could be Gina’s fault. His corpse should lie in the desert. Let the sandstorms eat off his flesh, let the Martian bacteria consume what remained.
In the shadow of Olympus Mons, a crowd assembled to hear the President speak. Martian dignitaries announced, on behalf of their respective governments, that they’d signed a pledge to join the Earth Republic.
With hands that were not hers, Gina held her blaster pistol. With ears that were not hers, she heard the crowd exalting the Zaphiro name. With eyes that were not hers, Gina gazed down on her brother from the bell tower of a nearby church.
Everything felt distorted like in a dream, and Gina could hear Skyler’s voice, always asking questions, somewhere close.
Reggie ascended to the podium, blowing kisses, his amiable smile in full effect. Gina could sense this was the real man, the real Reginald Zaphiro in all his arrogance.
“My fellow humans,” he said, “I have seen the future. I know how this moment fits into the grand scheme of history. For thousands of years, human civilizations have risen and fallen, destroying each other in pointless feuds or destroying themselves with corruption and immorality. Even the threat of alien invasion couldn’t unite our species. No, it took a genius like me to do that.”
“Zaphiro! Zaphiro! Zaphiro!” the crowd chanted.
“But according to history,” Reggie said, signaling for silence, “today is the day I die, murdered by my beloved sister. History intends to rob us of a momentous opportunity.
“I built the Earth Republic, but that is only the beginning. The human race must spread out, claim the stars for ourselves and subjugate the aliens who dare threaten us!
“Democracy is too inefficient to accomplish these goals. Space is too large, and Parliament is too slow. We do not need an Earth Republic but an Earth Empire! And I must be your emperor!
“A young man–a boy of Mars–recently wrote that not everything historic is good. My assassination, historic though it may be, is not good, so I will prevent it.”
The President looked up at the bell tower, sensing the unique hatred only his sister could have. At his mental command, troops entered the church. Reggie would not allow his nemesis to escape again.
The hands that held Gina’s pistol were too small. Even guided by Gina’s mind, they couldn’t hold the weapon steady. The child Gina controlled began to cry, hearing the sound of heavy boots approaching. The soldiers kicked down the door, opening fire when they saw a shadowy figure with a gun.
A laser blast pierced Skyler’s chest. She fell, dropping Gina’s weapon. It clattered on the floor.
“Wait, this isn’t the suspect,” one of the soldiers said. At the podium, Reggie echoed those words.
When Reggie first landed on Mars, he’d used a body double. To assassinate him, Gina created a mind double, accentuating Skyler’s anger and hate to mirror her own.
As the young girl died, Gina’s telepathic power went into retreat. Skyler glanced at the blood soaking her shirt and felt very tired. As she closed her eyes, Gina whispered into her weakening consciousness: “I’m sorry.”
* * *
When they made that graveyard for everyone Gina had killed, they should save space for Reggie. He’d become a monster, but not all of it was his fault. Gina had tampered with his mind long ago and set him on course for an evil end. She may as well have killed him when they were seven.
Gina opened her eyes. She’d returned to her own body, her mind purged of anger and hate. She felt only pity now. Pity for Skyler, who’d known what would happen and still volunteered. Pity for Reggie, who could have been a great man, who could have built an Earth Republic of justice and truth. And pity for herself, for what she had to do.
Gina rose to her feet. She stood on a precipice of Olympus Mons, concealed among rocks and rubble.
Reggie, confused and desperate, passed over Gina’s mind. He only knew her pain and wrath. A Gina who felt pity for him–he didn’t recognize that.
Gina aimed down the sight of a class-5 laser rifle. In her targeting scanner, she saw Reggie’s fear. In his mind, she sensed his panic.
“I’m so sorry, Reggie,” Gina said, and she pulled the trigger.
* * *
Following the assassination of Earth’s first president, Earth’s first civil war began. The Tomorrow News Network reported millions would die, but they also reported that, within a year, through delicate negotiations and compromise, a new government would form, and the many nations of Earth would learn to resolve their differences in Parliament rather than on the battlefield.
On Mars, a memorial was dedicated to the victims of the “Zaphiro Massacre.” Two hundred and forty-nine lay buried around it. Though grass didn’t grow well on Mars, it flourished over those graves. Scientists theorized it formed a symbiotic relationship with some strain of Martian bacteria, but they could never replicate that symbiosis elsewhere.
Gina visited the graveyard from time to time, making sure she went unseen. Too many called her a hero. Too many praised her for what she’d done. A few wanted her to become the first president of a unified Mars.
Gina preferred her solitary life, homeless and friendless, a danger to none.
One cool evening, Gina came to leave flowers for Skyler, but she sensed others already there: someone with music in her head and someone with a mind full of computer code. As Gina approached, the woman in black fumbled with some kind of ID card.
“Hello,” she said. “I’m…”
“Talie Tappler,” Gina interrupted.
Talie froze, clearly concerned the singing in her head wasn’t providing enough protection. She pursed her lips, and the music got louder.
“Why are you here?” Gina asked.
“The assassination of Earth’s first president, a man who turns out to be a psychotic telepath–and the assassin turns out to be his twin sister–how could any responsible journalist resist?”
Gina wondered how confusing it must be when time travelers didn’t do things in chronological order.
“I have a few questions,” Talie said while Gina laid her flowers over Skyler’s grave. “We all know you killed your brother, but history’s a bit unclear on how you did it.”
“I can’t tell you,” Gina said.
Despite the music, Gina sensed a flash of annoyance. The famous Talie Tappler didn’t take no for an answer.
“Your story isn’t about how I killed Reggie,” Gina said, standing up. “It’s about why. To find out, you’ll have to interview me in the past. You’ll probably want to get a lot of video of Reggie and I as kids too.”
Talie glared at Gina. Gina smirked, turned her back on the time traveler and her cyborg companion, and walked away.
“Mr. Cognis,” she heard Talie say, “call the newsroom. Tell them we may have a bigger story than we thought.”