2256. Syria Planum, Mars. Immediately after this scene, when Ysidra is attacked.
Ysidra had gone into shock on the train platform, her eyes glassy, her color pale. She struggled to hold onto consciousness, but he had seen a lot of wounds in his time, and he knew she would live.
So would the mundanes he had shot. Having placed an emergency call on his link to medical personnel, he put on his uniform jacket, snapped it shut - thank God for magnetic snaps - stood, and turned to the wounded mundanes.
And he looked down on their terrified forms like a viper on so many mice.
"I want you to remember something," he said, very softly, but very distinctly. "I want you to watch this, and remember it, and I want you to tell your friends." He turned toward where Endra lay puddled. Slowly, carefully, he stepped over to her semi-conscious form. Her eyes were starting to clear.
"First of all, this isn't Earth. You cowards turned your backs on Earth, remember? The officers who run the provisional government here - brave men and woman who fought in the war for you - well, they don't really care so much if you Marsies don't receive the full protection of Earth law. So, for instance, if something like this were to happen-" He pushed, and Endra screamed, writhing, trying, it seemed, to touch the back of her head to the heels of her feet. "Well, on Earth someone might wonder why I did it. They might even bring it up in a court of law. Not here." Just for form's sake, he hit the woman with a deep, hard scan. Unearthed her hatred of the Corps, saw how she had lost a child in the food riots, found - something else. Something buried, encrypted, hidden.
It was entombed in her hatred, but she hadn't repressed the memory by herself. He recognized the signs - a P12 had cauterized a memory. A sloppy job, though, and it was still half there.
He yanked it out, like a rotten tooth, set it aside, and got back to the business at hand. He sparked her mind and then diced it. It was so easy to do to normals. When he was done, she just lay there, drooling, staring at the ceiling and making gagging noises.
He looked back at the others, their eyes wide in terror.
"As I said, this isn't Earth. No one's gonna investigate. No one gives a damn. Remember this moment, and remember it well. I am Vengeance. If you want to hurt any of my people, my telepaths, you have to go through me first."
Then he pushed each of the other four, just a little, so they would worry about what he might have done to them. "Touch any of my telepaths, and take note - when I come for you, what I've done to her will seem a kindness," he promised. "Are you all quite clear on that?"
The four nodded vigorously, and about that time the medical team arrived.
The medics took all of the injured to Syria Planum's hospitals, the mundanes to theirs, and Ysidra to the Corps medical center. Satisfied that his intern would live, he went back to his apartment and carefully unwrapped the thing he had torn from Endra's mind. Not surprisingly, it had Psi Corps in it, everywhere, all around her. Department Sigma. Interested, he sifted the broken strands, weaving here, extrapolating there. He had worked with Department Sigma on a number of occasions, and was aware of some of their projects - Department Sigma had built his Black Omega squadron, after all - but to a large extent they were still a black box to him. He didn't like that.
He saw Endra working for IPX, running a backhoe, cutting blocks of rust-red permafrost with a silicon knife - that's where she had come by it. Digging for something in the Martian dirt.
The digging was just the frame of the picture. Endra Nadja had been digging most of her adult life. No, it was where she was digging - and why - that they had cut out.
He carefully worked his way to the core of the burned memories, and in the ashes, in the powdery place between what is forgotten and what was never known, he found spiders. Spiders boiling out of her flesh, spiders crowded on her eyeballs, spiders invading her mouth.
A chill went through him, the wind of a half-forgotten nightmare.
Strange. The records showed that Endra Nadja had been born on Mars and had never been off planet. Where would she have seen spiders?
Had someone in the Corps planted the images there, as some sort of punishment? That made little sense. Besides, the spiders were in the part of the memory that was most damaged, the piece that had been most viciously suppressed.
Whatever its source, Bester now had an explanation for Endra's bolder-than-normal hatred. She didn't remember being hurt by a Psi Cop, but one had hurt her a great deal, doing this. The buried memory had fed her natural antipathy.
Bester shook his head. Such incompetence. Whoever had done this deserved a reprimand for such a half-assed job. When you wanted to send a message, you sent one, and when you wanted to erase a memory, you erased it. Ysidra had almost died because some incompetent fool in Department Sigma hadn't destroyed these memories properly.
He couldn't identify the P12 who'd done it - the memories didn't have a signature he recognized. He shrugged and started to file it away again, but paused for a long moment.
There was something familiar about this. But what?
He stood with his eternally clenched hand pressed against the macromolecular glass, staring out over the battered surface of Mars. His mind traced back through the years, in search of the feeling of spiders, of an alien touch...
Then it hit him with a jolt to the gut.
The rogue in Brasilia. Anastasia Khol. The former Psi Cop. The possessed Psi Cop. What was it, more than twenty years ago?
The day before he'd found his wife in bed with another man, he remembered numbly. Over thirty years, then.
Khol had had something with spiders, hadn't she? And he'd seen something monstrous in her mind during the necroscan, something hideous and arachnid that he'd tried his damnedest to forget.
Yes, Khol had had spiders in her mind. And hadn't she come from Mars?
Sigma, Sigma, what are you up to this time?
Yes, this certainly went into the "to be considered" file.