by Libbylawrence, with Doc Quantum
The older woman had black hair and heavily painted eyes that seemed smaller than the norm because of the amount of mascara that caked the surrounding areas of her face. She was clearly not from Venus. Arda Starr could deduce that by merely looking at her manner of dress. She lacked the Venus symbol that all Venusians wore as both a patriotic badge of honor and as a warning to non-natives that they were in the presence of a telepath.
“I am Arda. How may I help you?” she said, speaking in the mannered, yet crisp tone that marked most of her speeches. Arda preferred to speak aloud rather than project her thoughts, since non-natives — even those with long years of residence on Venus — often felt unnerved by that mode of communication.
The other woman said, “I am here because my daughter Mentalia never reached our home. She was due two days ago.”
Arda nodded as she projected waves of calming thoughts. “Of course, you are referring to Mentalia Carson. She enrolled here last semester. She is a promising pupil. I worked with her during the afternoon mind lab. I had no idea that she was missing.”
“Thank you,” said Mrs. Carson. “She’s a bright girl — too bright to get lost or run away. Her father and I have notified the authorities, but I can’t stand this waiting. We Martians aren’t accustomed to the blind obedience you Venusians give your public servants.”
Arda stood up and frowned in concern. She liked Mentalia. The child had been a bit impulsive, but that trait only made her sessions livelier. “I’m sure we can clear this up. Let me find out who took her to the station,” said Arda. She stepped over to a small computer and typed rapidly until a schedule appeared on the holo display. “One of the new teachers, Miss Aries, took Mentalia from the Institute to the station. Let me ask her to step inside.”
Moments later, a rather sultry, red-haired beauty with flashing green eyes entered the room and stood defiantly before the pair. “What is it?” she said, impatience in her voice. “I was in the middle of a class.”
Arda swiftly transferred the information about the crisis to the other girl via a mental message; it was faster and more comprehensive than a verbal explanation. Eve Aries opened her mouth in surprise, and an expression of concern filled her face. She said, “Mentalia! I left her at the station. She was just about to board the shuttle when I last saw her.”
“She never arrived home,” Mrs. Carson said. “The shuttle pilot said he saw her climb aboard, but he has no recollection of when she got off!”
“I’m sorry,” said Eve. “I can only imagine your feelings at a time like this. I don’t really know what else I can say. If I can assist you again, let me know.” She walked off as Arda watched her thoughtfully.
“Someone must have taken her off the shuttle at one of its stops,” said Mrs. Carson. “I won’t allow this to drop. Someone will pay if she has been harmed!”
“We will try to help — I promise,” assured Arda. “The Institute has many resources. You must not despair yet.”
After the distraught parent had left, Arda sat down and decided to search for the child herself. She would do so without leaving the room. She closed her eyes, picturing the little blonde girl, then gently allowed her mind to reach out subtly and skim the surface of the minds within her range of power. If someone knew something about the missing child, she would detect it.
Long minutes passed, and she rubbed at her eyes as the strain began to tell on her. She frowned as the faintest whisper of a thought caressed her mind. “Eve knows more than she admitted. I never liked her, and that might be coloring my own findings, but I doubt it. She knows something about Mentalia.”
Arda spoke softly to activate a nearby computer and carefully pulled up a student record holo. “Mentalia has a rather unusual variation of telepathy. She can dominate the sensory or physical systems of others, and possibly in time she’ll be able to take control of other people’s nervous systems and muscles.” She frowned as she pondered just what this could mean.
“No other pupil has been reported as missing. I didn’t pick up any abnormal thoughts about Mentalia, even from her friends, so she is unlikely to have planned this disappearance. Someone took her by surprise, and I’d wager it was because of the latent powers she may develop.”
Arda continued thinking aloud. “Only the full-time staff and those pupils with advanced placement can access the records. Eve is one of the few who could do this, so she could very well have known about Mentalia’s unique gifts or potential. Perhaps Eve Aries has some talents of her own I should look into.” She activated another record holo and then nodded grimly.
Later, Arda stood in front of a rather gruff man who wore his hair in stylized dreadlocks. “I already talked with the police,” he said. “The kid got on my shuttle. At some point she got off. I can’t pay attention to all the passengers who leave at any given station. I’m sorry. That’s all I know.”
Arda frowned in concentration. “No, that’s merely all you think you know. I can see why other scans might have missed this, since there is no suggestion in your mind that what you saw didn’t really happen. You aren’t lying… not deliberately. The memory you have of Mentalia getting on the shuttle is there in your mind, but it is a false one. It was planted there by a stronger mind that had the capability of hypnosis.”
As the startled pilot blinked rapidly and tried to come to terms with her words, she ran out after yelling back, “You’ll be fine. She just placed a fake memory in your mind. No lasting harm will accrue!”
That evening, Eve Aries piloted an air-car to an isolated Silverale bar outside the city limits. After the redhead parked and walked inside the bar, the storage port on the rear of the vehicle popped open, and Arda crawled out of the cramped interior. Note to self: never try that again! I feel like I just went ten rounds with a gorilladillo! she thought.
Arda moved stealthily forward and leaned against the wall. The cold metal on her skin jolted her even as she probed the minds inside and tried to trace Eve. Once the Silver Lass of Venus got a good lock on her brain patterns, it became simple to pick Eve out of a crowd. She was in the back. Apparently, the owner had a secret room.
She moved around the back and had just begun climbing up on a pile of old ale crates when a blow from behind sent her tumbling to the ground.
Arda later awoke to find herself lying on the dirty floor with her hands tied behind her back and her ankles tied together. A high-heeled boot kicked her ribs, and she moaned as Eve stood over her.
“You little brat!” Eve projected into her mind. “You thought you were so special! I felt your little mind probe. I may not be in your league, Miss Starr, but I’m exceptional, too!” The words burned in Arda’s mind as the older telepath smiled at her with a cruel delight.
A burly man with blue skin and large tipped eyebrows — a native of Indigo, otherwise known as the planet Blue — came closer and said, “Eve, I can use her, too. I’ll even pay you a hundred credits. She might be of use to the boss.”
“Oh, you can have her for free,” said Eve. “She and I have never been on good terms. She’s a sanctimonious little snip.”
Arda spotted a child in the corner. She was bound, and a hood covered her face. “That’s Mentalia!” she cried out accusingly. “You brought her here and only forced the shuttle pilot to think he had noticed her get aboard. You used your hypnotic power on him. It was a good trick, but not good enough. I saw the truth buried beneath your mental lies. You wanted to sell her to this thug for some criminal purpose!”
The Indigoan criminal said, “Her powers will be priceless when she develops them fully. I know a sentient who could use that kind of talent for his gang.”
“Why so silent?” taunted Eve. “Cat got your mind? We’ll ship you off tonight when our ride arrives. I’ve learned all I need from this backwater world. Who needs the patronage of the Mind Institute when you can make others your slaves?” She laughed and led the alien out of the room.
Arda rolled over on her side and inched across the floor until she could reach Mentalia. She could not break her own bonds, but she could grasp the girl’s hood and help her work her way out of it.
The little girl’s eyes widened as she saw the fallen platinum-blonde woman, and Arda gently sent calm thoughts her way. “Don’t be scared. We’re getting out of here. All you have to do is follow my lead!”
“Thank you!” thought Mentalia. “She was taking me to the station. I mean, she was supposed to, but she didn’t! She put me in a trance, and I woke up here!”
“I’ve been sending gentle but persuasive thoughts to her pet goon,” thought Arda. “His mind is rather primitive. I guess that helps in his line of work. Still, I think I can compel him to come back. When he does, do what I tell you.” Mentalia was a spirited child and agreed readily.
The door slid open, and the blue alien entered with wide-eyed wonder written on his face. Arda exerted her will and guided Mentalia as the child grabbed control of the brute’s motor skills and forced him to come closer. He trembled and almost fell. But her control was far from complete. Still, he obeyed, and under her control his ham-like hands ripped their bonds free.
The girls stood up, and Arda smashed a chair over his head. He crashed to the floor, and Arda said, “That sound should bring Eve here. Remember what I told you to do, and don’t be frightened!” Mentalia was pale, but she was brave enough to agree with the older girl’s scheme.
When Eve Aries entered the room, her mind was assaulted with a powerful wave of thoughts from Arda Starr. She staggered backward and tottered on her high-heeled boots. She placed one hand to her head as if to assert her own power, but before she could do more than raise her arm, her eyes blinked shut.
“That’s it! Keep her eyes shut!” said Arda. “She can’t use her super-hypnosis if she can’t see her target.”
Mentalia smiled as she held on to that one small part of the stronger woman’s body. She managed to keep Eve’s eyes closed in spite of the angry woman’s furious efforts to resist.
“You brat!” thought Eve. “I’ll get you both for this!”
Arda inhaled sharply as waves of hatred swept across her mind, but she was remarkable in every way, and she resisted Eve’s attack and leveled her with a stinging right cross. “That felt good!” she said as the red-haired criminal collapsed.
Mentalia embraced Arda and said, “We did it! Oh, thank you!”
Arda stiffened for a moment, unused to being touched. Then she smiled and stroked the little girl’s hair to comfort her. She thought, “I managed to broadcast Eve’s tirade from before. I’d say some of the more law-abiding locals will have summoned help by now.”
Indeed, at that moment a gray-and-blue-clad Space Patrol officer entered and said, “Good work, Miss Starr! We received the thoughts you sent. The sheer passion of the perpetrator made it even easier. You showed real courage and resourcefulness, and we sure could use you on the force. You should attend the academy on Mars. Sadly, the goons who were going to pick up Miss Aries and her ally and you captives smelled a moonrat and got away before docking. Well, we’ll get them in time.”
Arda Starr slowly nodded her head. The idea was new to her, but she liked it. She had enjoyed her adventure, and she had done something good. Perhaps the Space Patrol Department was a perfect fit for a girl with her powers and talents. The SPD’s jurisdiction was limited to the solar system, which was now largely tamed, so the Space Patrol rarely had the same kind of exotic challenges as the far-flung Space Rangers had in other star systems. And although Arda’s human ancestor, Adam Starr of the twenty-second century, had founded the pirate-hunting Solar Legion and had been largely responsible for ridding the solar system of space piracy, the system still had its share of lawlessness in the centuries since then. The episode with Eve Aries and the criminal from Indigo had proven that.
The Silver Lass of Venus returned Mentalia to her mother, saw Eve and her henchman incarcerated, and received additional praise from both the Mind Institute and the Space Patrol. And Arda Starr vowed to go to the Academy and enroll. She had found her destiny, or so she thought.