“Welcome to Mars,” said the sultry, automated voice. “The time is 24:13 Martian Central, and the temperature is currently 201degrees Celsius. Tomorrow’s high temperature is expected to be 274, with light winds and dust. Please watch your step as you disembark, as Martian gravity is thirty-eight percent that of Earth. Have a pleasant stay.”
Yes, thought Harriman Gray, his step did indeed feel springier as he negotiated the moving walkway. A shy, reserved person, Gray did not usually have a bounce in his step, nor did he whistle while he worked. His job as a telepath for Earthforce required a demeanor slightly less serious than that of an undertaker.
But he couldn’t help feeling rather chipper tonight, as he was about to embark on a new assignment—liaison to Mr. Bester. Bester was the top Psi Cop, the one who got the tough cases chasing down rogue telepaths. But he was much more than a Psi Cop, as Gray well knew. Bester was one of the most powerful figures in Psi Corps, the closely guarded organization charged with training and regulating both military and civilian telepaths. Although Bester’s name did not appear on any list of prominent citizens, a more powerful man in the Earth Alliance would be hard to find.
Gray was distracted by some children bounding several strides ahead of their parents in the light gravity. He was glad that he didn’t have any of those to worry about, although, lately, he had been feeling unaccountably paternal. It was Susan, he thought, Susan Ivanova from Babylon 5. She had brought out these strange feelings in him, and what had he brought out in her? Loathing and disgust. He was afraid to give himself encouragement when it came to Susan, but toward the end of his eventful visit to Babylon 5, there had been a twinge of sympathy, a smidgen of understanding in her response to him. Or so he imagined.
After all, nobody chose to be telepathic. Better than anyone, Susan Ivanova should know that. She could have unlimited sympathy for her mother, a rogue telepath, so why couldn’t she have some for him? Was he any different, just because he had chosen to accept his gift and allow the Corps to train him and place restrictions on his behavior? Was he any different than a soldier, trained to kill one moment and keep the peace the next? They lived in a society that had rules, and the rules were for the good of everyone.
Okay, Mr. Gray had to admit, the rules worked better for some people than for others. But nobody wanted anarchy, such as the revolt on Mars a few weeks earlier. The fighting was over, he reminded himself, and most of the real damage had occurred on another part of Mars, not this region. Stopping the dissension on Mars would be easier than winning Susan’s heart. If only he could return to B5 and have another chance to talk to her, to convince her that he wasn’t a monster.
A moment later, another female intruded into his mind. It was the security guard at the end of the walkway, and Gray separated her voice from the innumerable voices which babbled inside his head whenever he was in a crowded place. They weren’t real voices—they were thoughts—but his mind translated the thoughts into an interior monologue. If he concentrated, he could pick out the voice he wanted, amplify it, and even look behind it at the motions and motives which informed it.
He produced his identicard a moment before she asked for it. Then he felt a jab of fear from her in response to the card and his Psi Corps insignia, although her smiling face said, “Have a pleasant stay on Mars, Mr. Gray.”
Many telepaths loved that instantaneous fear they inspired in total strangers. They got off on it and were
disappointed if a person’s psyche didn’t cower before them. Gray only found it depressing.
With his guard down, he was struck by a mind-scan so severe that it staggered him. If it hadn’t been for the Martian gravity, which bounced him harmlessly off a wall, he would’ve fallen to the floor.
“Are you all right?” asked the guard as she grabbed Gray’s elbow and steadied him.
“Yes, yes,” he rasped, trying to clear his head. Who the hell had done that to him?
A small, middle-aged man in a black uniform stepped from behind a pillar. He smiled, trying to look friendly, but he only succeeded in looking heartless.
“Your friend will look after you,” said the guard cheerfully, literally pushing Gray into the man’s gloved hands.
“So pleased to meet you,” said Mr. Bester without speaking a word.
Gray blinked in amazement and answered telepathically, “I didn’t expect you to meet me personally, Mr. Bester.”
“You’ll find,” said the Psi Cop in spoken words, “that I believe in the axiom ‘If you want something done right, do it yourself.’ “
Gray almost protested over the way he had been scanned without permission, or warning for that matter. But he knew it wouldn’t do any good. Bester was above the law, if anyone was, although he preferred to work from behind pillars and politicians, not in front of them. In a privileged class, Bester was the most privileged.
Harriman Gray was a slight man, and he took some comfort in the fact that Mr. Bester was no taller than he. In fact, without the considerable amount of hair that Bester possessed, he might have been even shorter.
The Psi Cop frowned. “Yes, but I’m a P12, and you’re only a P1O.”
“I didn’t mean anything by that,” said Gray apologetically.
Bester smiled and started down the corridor. “Of course not. Do you know, there have been studies showing that shorter men are actually more predisposed toward telepathy. Do you suppose that could be evolution making up for a height disadvantage?”
“I read the Berenger Study, too,” answered Gray, “but I didn’t think that he proved his hypothesis. For example, the same study showed that taller women were predisposed toward telepathy. It looks to me like a statistical aberration.”
“That’s why I wanted to pick you up myself,” said Bester with satisfaction. “To have some time to talk with you. You know, this assignment won’t last very long, just until we iron out the details of the conference and get the weekend started. However, I am looking for a new assistant.”
Gray was caught off-guard by Bester dangling a ripe promotion in front of his nose, but he blocked his reactions as best he could. He could feel the Psi Cop probing his mind for a reaction, but he thought he had a very effective way to shut the probing down.
“Yes, I heard about poor Ms. Kelsey,” said Gray, shaking his head. “Terrible tragedy.”
Bester shrugged and stopped his scan. “She knew the risks. We got our man, that was the important part. Of course, when you went to Babylon 5, you also came back minus one.”
Touchй, thought Gray. “Yes, that was also a tragedy,” he said with all sincerity.
“Nonsense,” snapped Bester. “Ben Zayn was a weakling, a war burnout. Just like Sinclair.”
The man in the black uniform swept down another corridor, and Gray hurried after him. Except for the ease of moving in the light gravity, there was no indication that they were on Mars. The docking area looked like any other space facility designed for oxygen-breathers; there were the usual crowded corridors, gift shops, florists, news-stands, restaurants, and credit machines. One had to go to an observatory dome to see anything of the red planet.
Bester went on with his diatribe about Babylon 5. “Neither Sinclair nor Ben Zayn was right for that post on B5. Now we’ve got another war hero there—John Sheridan. That’s the trouble with the Senate and the President, always appointing war heroes to positions of command, just because they’re popular.”
“You don’t think much of Captain Sheridan?” asked Gray with surprise. “Everyone at Earthforce think it’s finally the right move.”
“At least Sheridan is by the book,” conceded the Psi Cop. “An honest plodder. But he may find that Babylon 5 is not covered in the book. I’ll reserve judgment until I see how he handles the pressure.”
“You would rather have someone from the Corps running B5?”
“No,” answered Bester. “We work better behind the scenes. But it would be nice to have a friend in that post.”
Gray cleared his throat and thought that he had better turn the conversation back to the promotion. “If you get a new assistant, doesn’t he or she have to be a Psi Cop?”
“That has always been the conventional thinking—Psi Cops sticking with other Psi Cops. But it’s not official
policy. In some respects, it would be better to separate my assistant from my backup person. I can always find new cops to go after the rogues, but an able assistant is a bit harder to replace.”
After negotiating another corner, Bester continued, “My assistant has to be a member of the Corps and be willing to undergo a deep scan. That goes without saying. Otherwise, it could be anybody.”
The older telepath turned abruptly, stepped in front of Gray, and looked him squarely in the eyes. “I’ve done a lot of research on you, Mr. Gray. I especially like the way you manage to come out on the winning side of every skirmish. That quality, plus your military background, is very appealing to me.”
Gray waited for the blast of a deep scan, but it never happened. Bester just looked at him, a satisfied smile on his surprisingly youthful face. It was as if he was saying he could jump his mind anytime he wanted to, but he wasn’t going to, for now. So the liaison official took the offer at face value—he was on a trial period to be Mr. Bester’s full-time assistant.
However, Gray couldn’t forget the fact that he had a job to do, and that was to promote the military’s needs in the upcoming conference of high-level telepaths. Press releases claimed the focus was on commercial applications for telepaths—and there would be representatives from the commercial firms—but everyone knew who really controlled the Corps these days. Military and corporate telepaths were fighting for crumbs of power compared to what Bester already had. They controlled their own domains, but Bester and the Psi Cops controlled them.
“The monorail is this way,” said Bester. “We have a private car.”
“My luggage,” said the young telepath.
Bester smiled. “It’s being delivered to your suite. I think you will find that the Royal Tharsis Lodge is being quite accommodating.”
Once inside the security of the sealed monorail car, Harriman Gray finally relaxed and took in the sights, such as they were on a dark Martian night. The angry red planet didn’t look so angry when it was crisscrossed with monorail tubes, prefabricated dwellings, and shielded domes. It looked like a giant gerbil habitat on a dusty parking lot.