"T9," nodded the man at the table's head.
Nobody ever bothered using her real name. Moving gracefully, she took the only available chair. The man smiled thinly: good ole' Jans, whose stolid, bland expression never seemed to change. She returned the smile. Bright light dazzled his baldness; his voice rumbled deep from the shadow of jowls. "I am afraid," he said, "That I have some distressing news about the colony at Turner 9."
'T9', just like her nickname. She looked round the table. Some of the faces were somber, others were puzzled. Usually half the attendants knew the agenda while the others just looked dumb.
"We've lost all contact--"
"Just get to the freakin' point, Daddio," she snapped. Eyebrows peaked. She smiled: got 'em again.
Jans calmly continued. "--and all the colonists there have vanished." Gasps and exchanged glances around her: "We don't know how or why. There have been no hostile actions, no chemical experiments, bio hazards, nor virus experimentations. In short, absolutely nothing which could have provoked this sort of disaster."
"What did it, then?" asked someone near the table's end. He blanched from the dirty looks.
She leaned forward, her camouflage suit wrinkling convincingly like shifting lunar dust. "So I'm here to take care of it, right?"
The man across from her apparently did not notice her eyes: "Boy, you've got an ego, haven't you?"
She glared at him. "Ah--" here came Jans with the inevitable "For those of you who don't know, 'T9' here is a Telepath from the old Ninth squad. She is the only survivor. . .will you please desist, Mary?"
She released her red gaze, while the air seemed to tremble as fear flared among the room's occupants. Only Jans ever dared feel comfortable around her; only honest people usually did, and he was the only one who used her real name. Now its use suddenly made her feel ashamed. From her pocket she handed the man a handkerchief. He needed it.
"We've already sent an exploratory team," Jans continued, "And they shall fill us in on their discoveries via a comlink shortly." Pausing briefly, "The reason T9 has been called to this meeting-"
"I've been demoted!" she shrieked.
Ever since her childhood Jans had been good at avoiding her Awareness, by being able to concentrate intensely on a single task. What he did not wish for her to discern, he simply did not think.
"How did she know? How did she know?" someone whispered frantically.
"Not demoted," Jans replied calmly. "After all, why shouldn't you be relieved from a completely decimated Division?"
"Because I am the only one left!" she shouted.
"You'll still have an honorary status," Jans soothed. "Calling you to this meeting was an honor. But I'm afraid you simply cannot continue being a Major in a squad that no longer exists. Until we find you another placement, you must serve as a standard psychological counselor--"
Leaning close "This is me, Daddio," she half-whispered, half- hissed. "You know I'm not a psych counselor, I'm an elite telepathic espionage infiltrator--"
"For now you are a psychological counselor."
Their gazes locked. From inside her pounding heart she almost unleashed her emotions, her enraged frustrations, her sorrows. He would have had no defense. Yet he met her gaze calmly, blandly, as always.
She looked away. Sternly, she told herself again that she would control herself. She was special, artificial, but special; someone had to control her, and she only allowed Jans to do so.
"Very well," Jans continued.
"Did she call him 'Daddio?'" asked some moron. She cast him the glare.
Now the final remains of that 'artificial' regiment were being blithely swept from memory. Remaining only would be her stupid honorary title, which made sense because memories were short for disposable things. Her creation as a genetically enhanced soldier had snatched her destiny away, dooming her to lowly pawndom. She clenched her hands as if she could strangle the anger inside her; soon, even she would forget.
While nearing the colony, she wondered why she remained in the Service. Mainstream human society made her recoil--her vulnerable, unprotected mind would be assaulted by prejudice, fear, and a thousand screams. Jans was the only real human she intimately knew, and he was like stone. One of her secret wishes was that maybe someday he would touch her hand. Besides him she had possessed nothing but her Regiment, and her Regiment had possessed nothing but itself. Now a new life was too late.
The colony entrance greeted her with crisp, cheerful letters welcoming her to its fold. The pristine silence made the message seem ominous. As she penetrated the colony's subterranean depths, she sensed its empty echoes. No stray thoughts touched her, no emotions choked her, no furtive glances--truly an odd haven, though, for a telepath.
There, a thought--probably from an investigating team member-- "Good ole' Ramson, he does everything exactly by the book. I may consider him for a commendation. . ."
Yes, this team was obviously suffering from mental dissidence, just desperate for her talents as a psychological counselor. Others started registering against her consciousness, all busy as bees and as happy as birds--except for that one, who was spilling coffee into her lap. She winced.
Resisting the urge to wring her clothing, she approached a door behind which she felt a presence. As she readied to clear her throat, she wondered why she had really been sent here. She knew that the government hated loose strings--
"--what the hell--"
The door began vibrating. Against her will, her fingers splayed and her teeth ground into her tongue, as wafting through the door came a low, anguished moan, explicitly human, and exquisitely of pain. Mentally, she felt as if she had been thrown and lodged into agony like a knife.
When the moan ceased she gurgled and slumped into the wall. A thick brine was in her mouth, her body feeling like mud and her heart more forceful than a river, who was dizzy she or the world-- she had just felt that man die--
"Who are you?"
She stared unseeingly at the shadow above her, as distantly she felt a vague, fading sense of satisfaction, as if a need of some unknown thing had been satisfied. "What's your problem? Hey, Jackson?" A shadowy arm reached for the door. "Jackson?"
For a drifting moment she had a clear image of a silhouetted man in the threshold. She felt his mind's light just as the ground began to vibrate. His silhouette started slowly fading, as from it, like a slow breeze, flowed a low, morbid wail. She screamed, a woman's scream, anything to counteract that sound, and as her agonized body tensed the man's flickering life ex--
Diffuse and soft, that alien satisfaction flowed through her again--and this time she seized it, grabbed it, took it, desperate for any shield. Hiding behind this amorphous wall, she watched as every team member took a horrified turn at being murdered by the air. With each death the satisfaction grew stronger, until finally, an ecstatic wave roared seemingly through the entire planet when the last human light extinguished, and she could not stop, not want, not help but to revel in that same delightful joy--
She lost consciousness.
Every mission assigned her regiment had been preceded by a vow of secrecy, enforced by death. Even so, often long after a mission was complete, the people involved would vanish. Only remaining would be their memory, flickering like a ghost; gone not for treachery, but because they knew. She knew things.
Such as how her regiment's final mission had really been a diplomatic favor between "Us" and "Them". They were ordered to suppress an alien rebellion, on an alien planet for an alien race, and with catastrophic results, for her regiment. Intelligence had later surmised that "They" might have 'secretly' planned everything, staging the rebellion to discover the requirements for destruction of "Our" elite teams.
Sometimes she could not help thinking that if her Regiment had actually stood for something, then maybe its decimation would never have occurred. Yet secrecy shrouded causes. Often a soldier had really no idea what he or she fought for, and often, no choice. This distinguished soldiers from warriors, she supposed. No one remembered soldiers.
Now a new life was too late. She knew the government hated loose strings.
The question pressed in toward her, from the surrounding faces, like a siege. "I don't know!" They moved inward, their encircling minds aflame "I don't know!" she screamed, and then humiliatingly, started to cry.
The Captain raised his hands. "Leave her be."
"John died down there and she knows why!" shouted one bald young man.
"Leave her be, Ensign."
"Damn't, the fucking red-eyed devil knows!" The slap stung her cheek. Her eyes flared. She stared into his mind, saw swastikas and other things human. Between him and her their hatreds met. "Go on, kill me," the man leered. "Control myself," she thought--"You haven't got the guts!"--"I will control myself--
"--"Ya fuckin' red eyed bitch--"
The young man choked. He clutched his bloodied head, hit the ground.
The Captain's Draconian voice wielded command. In his hand was the butt of his hueiter. Slowly, the other officers started receding toward the door. "Take him with you." The Captain's hands were trembling. Quickly the body was dragged from the office, toward the medbay.
Wordlessly, the Captain walked across his quarters, to return with a cup of tea. She took the fragile cup, aware without being told that the Captain almost never let anyone touch his china.
The cup was warm, its heart hot. She sipped daringly, and surprisingly, the brew helped. "What do you know?" the Captain asked.
"The whole thing planetside. . .it's a setup."
"I'm not exactly sure," she lied. "I need. . .to investigate more."
"You'll do it up here, where it's safe."
"I have to go back down."
The Captain's dark eyes, they probed her, as only a blind person could. She smiled at her hidden thoughts. Finally "You know more than you're telling me," he said. Her smile faded; the Captain nodded. "Everyone always does."
She rose. Standing above the Captain, her red eyes against his blue, she said "Captain, did you hit that Ensign to protect him or me?"
She saw the answer flicker in his eyes long before he answered. "Truthfully. . .myself, Major."
She smiled. She went for the door.
She halted. Rays of sunshine stroked her body. In the blissful solitude, she closed her eyes.
Something shifted in her mind. The trees and the hills slowly faded, to be replaced by dust.
She was on a gray world, the sun distant and cold. All the beauty had been a simple illusion. Nearby lay the ripplings of a lake half covered with ice. The ground was strewn with withered vegetation, tenacious remnants of an ancient planet and a fading sun. Slowly, wrapping her arms round herself as if her flesh were a shawl, she peered into the water. Inside dwelt shades upon shades of deepening blue; like an ancient eye, extending forever. She thought simple queries, and from the well rose the answer: a memory.
She gasped from the vividness of this alien memory, a summary of a thousand years compressed into seconds. An explanation of a creature's entire past was related to her in neither tale nor detail, but completely, and with shocking familiarity. In less than seconds, she was familiar with eons. She stumbled to the ground.
Gently, whisperingly, it spoke to her. It told her, she could stay. That it would take care of her. That it would protect her from "their" shrieking thoughts and "their" sub-sentient howls. That "they" could live together in peace.
"But why?" she thought, or perhaps dreamed. "Why me and not all the others?"
The answer was immediate: because she was a telepath, a prerequisite for sentience. For eons this creature had slumbered, starving, waiting; now sated, it tired of being alone, and begged for her company. It could teach her things she had never even fathomed about the universe. . .
Eventually she registered her beeping communicator. Nonchalantly she activated it. She was surprised to see Jans' face.
"Mary?" he asked urgently. "Mary, are you all right? Have you discovered something?"
Affection for the haggard continence suddenly coursed through her body. "Jans!" she exclaimed, "You've been the only one--"
Jans cut her off with "Do the right thing, Mary."
The dismissal hurt like a knife. Desperately, she thought of this alien creature which finally offered her a haven, a protected cove from where she could wield its terrible power against them all, these cruel, non-sentient, human sheep--"Mary?"
Jans' eyes searched hers through the screen, until finally, he said "Do it."
His eyes, his human eyes, soft with pain, hard as marble "Do it!"
A shocked wave of realization stunned her, and she realized that Jans knew. He had sent her here, to give her an opportunity to escape everything she loathed--Reality seemed to collapse around her. In a blinding whirlpool she groped for an answer, she groped for any worthy thought or memory to support with this moment, and realized that she had none. All her thoughts were disposable, like her regiment, like herself.
After a long, silent moment, her face melted into a smile. "For you, Daddio."
She cleared her throat for the final time. "I am Major Mary Aquailo, Pyschotinotic Squad 9. It is my duty to report that this planet is a trap--send no further colonists to Turner 9." The blue lake flared bloody red: "Via telepathy I've discovered an ancient, telepathic nomadic mind which studies expanding civilizations--" the ground vibrated--"then embeds itself into the core of a nearby planet and creates an illusion that the planet is a perfect paradise trapping the colonists like in a Venus Fly Trap--my squad Daddio make them remembered--"
Her scream tore through her skeleton. As her body was sucked out, she saw Daddio's cracked and horrified expression as he watched her die. "Oh," she thought in the cyclone's eye ". ..finally a warrior. . ."
In the silence, the only audible sound were their raspy breaths. "You made her trust you--love you, even. You did that with a telepath. Even a mind-reader can't get past an honest face." The man chuckled. "And those men you sent to the science vessel--I've never seen a more pushy, intimidating lot. You manipulated her splendidly, applying just enough pressure to make her confirm our suspicions." The man beamed.
Jans slowly placed his hand over the small monitor screen. "And now we know it can be communicated with! We and not anyone else! The potential! As a weapon or--as a planet which can convert itself at will! Just imagine! Vacation resorts, corporate headquarters. We'll--threaten it with destruction, perhaps with a messenger droid--then offer to feed it, maybe with some senile chumps, or convicts. Who knows, this is like those ancient volcano gods, you know--a whole religious angle!" In glee the man clapped his hands. "We owe it all to you, Janus."
"You made one mistake," Jans rumbled. He lifted his hidden hand. The other gasped. "Only a man with many faces fools a telepath."
The muzzle flash lit the room. All was silent after the dull thud, before Jans activated his com. "Sammy, get me everyone. Everywhere. They will not dim her memory--"
Click here to e-mail D.K. Smith
Biography:"D.K. Smith is a green, heretofore unpublished young writer raised in L.A. by loving parents and cartoons. (S)." Aphelion is proud to have been the venue of his first published story. This is his second story to be published in Aphelion. We hope to bring you more of his work in future issues.
Return to the Aphelion main page.