Thomas waited impatiently for his wheelchair to touch the ground.
The mystery of his birth mother had troubled him all his life. If she had truly not wanted her newborn infant, well, then why hadn’t she killed him? Infants were easy to dispose of. Such crimes often went unsolved. Why had his birth mother granted him a meager chance to survive?
She had wrapped him in a dish towel, as if that could protect the baby from subzero temperatures.
She had left him near a roadside in the predawn hours of the darkest night of the year. That gave him a chance to be seen by passing cars.
A surgeon on his commute to work had noticed the discarded bundle. That was how Thomas got his name: Thomas, for the surgeon who had rescued him, and Hill, because he’d been found on Liberty Hill Road. He was an orphan in the truest sense of the word. No family had ever stepped forward to claim him.
He wanted answers.
“Ma’am, can I help you?” Vy stepped between Thomas and the stranger.
The blond woman spoke in a cultured, emotionless way. “I have a matter to discuss with your resident super-genius.” She sidestepped Vy and walked into Thomas’s range of telepathy.
Thomas prepared to soak up her name and personal information. No one could prevent him from learning whatever secrets he was determined to learn. He anticipated revelations and weird secrets … but this….
Her mind was unlike any he had ever encountered.
Boldly, defiantly, unlike any mind on Earth. Cherise and Vy had moods. Everyone had moods, erupting like volcanoes or lapping like ocean waves, yet this woman felt dead inside. Her mood was as smooth as glass.
Thousands of distant individuals seemed to whisper inside the woman’s mind. Their wordless attention pointed at Thomas like a finger. More joined them, until there were tens of thousands, their surface thoughts overlapping and echoing. The unseen audience kept growing. There were far too many for Thomas to keep track of. Their combined attention felt as powerful as a god’s thunderous decree.
MIND READER (YOU).
Thomas shrank back in his wheelchair. An audience larger than the population of North America seemed to be sizing him up, all peering through her sunglasses.
“You’ve caught a lot of attention,” the blond woman said.
Her casual words might as well be a recording. There was no personality behind it. No emotion, no intention, no humanity. She was well-groomed, like a newscaster, but her smile had nothing to do with the whispery horde inside her mind.
For the first time in years, Thomas felt like the child that everyone mistook him for. His own ignorance was staggering.
He had given up searching for other telepaths. All his life, he had been alone in his own mind. But it seemed other telepaths existed, and they must be legion! Millions. Billions. He had never been so profoundly wrong about anything before.
“Where are you?” he whispered.
What an (ignorant) (deprived) lonely (solo) child. Faraway individuals chorused within the woman, their thoughts overlapping as fast as multiple lightening strikes.
You were (he was) raised by (primitives) savages.
But he could have so much more.
He could be so much (wiser) (smarter) better.
The wordless chorus of faraway thoughts collected into an angelic crescendo. Join Us.
Thomas was vaguely aware that his jaw was hanging open.
All those distant telepaths seemed nameless, genderless, bereft of identities, as if they were mere reflections of people. They were not wholly there. Not within his range.
Perceptions crackled through the unseen horde: towers that defied gravity, needle-thin because they were taller than mountains. Flying vehicles careened between holographs that floated in midair. Urban sprawl glowed on the shadowy sides of moons and planets.
We live on other worlds, the distant minds chorused.
Their chorus was silent. The telepaths did not use any spoken language or words. Their language was pure imagination, comprised of impressions and abstractions.
It was beautiful. Fascinating.
They went on, revealing facts to Thomas in overlapping waves of information.
We own all worlds.
We know you.
We see you—
—through her (one of Our agents) on your primitive world (Earth). They indicated the blond woman, and introduced her. The Swift Killer.
“How…?” Thomas breathed. He had far too many questions for a slow verbal conversation.
Was he communicating with aliens? He must be. But how could aliens resemble humans? That seemed too improbable for plausibility. Unless humans and telepathic aliens were close relatives?
Join Us and find out, they chorused.
Oh. He wanted to.
The Swift Killer looked human. She looked so much like him, he wanted to cry. Was this the woman who had given birth to him, and then abandoned him in the snowy forest?
Except for her eyes. Thomas couldn’t see much through her dark sunglasses, but judging from what little he could make out, the Swift Killer lacked pupils and irises. Her gaze was an empty, milky white. She could be mistaken for a blind person.
Only Thomas sensed that her vision was … well, better than normal.
She saw every hair on his head, every thread in his scarf.
She even saw an aura of heat around him and around Vy. Was she actually seeing infrared?
If these hordes of alien telepaths owned technology that empowered them to live on multiple planets, they must have all sorts of advanced biotechnology. They might have medicines that made Thomas’s NAI-12 seem primitive.
They might have the knowledge to cure his fatal, degenerative neuromuscular illness.
Join Us, the Swift Killer’s inner audience thundered in an angelic symphony.
Join Us, and—
—you shall gain the knowledge of All.
The instant Thomas wondered how to join them, the Swift Killer placed a folded brochure on his lap.
Thomas glanced down. It was a map of the state of New Hampshire.
? He studied her, wondering if the map contained some incredible secret.
I circled it in red (for you), the Swift Killer thought. Go there.
Go there, her inner audience hummed.
Don’t make Us wait.
Their overlapped thoughts were as powerful as ocean waves roaring against cliffs.
Cherise stepped out of the van. Concern radiated from her like rays of sunlight, because she couldn’t guess why Thomas looked so astonished and awestruck. In the year and a half since she had first met Thomas, she had never seen him react with shock.
No one had.
“Are you all right?” Vy stepped between Thomas and the Swift Killer, emanating alarm.
“Fine.” Thomas tried to maneuver around his caretaker, wheels churning on gravel. He didn’t need an overprotective older sister. “You can go into the house.”
Vy drew back with a hurt look.
Thomas realized that he’d sounded rude. He would apologize later. “Wait!” he called.
The Swift Killer was walking away.
The unseen audience inside her mind layered their imaginations together, forming a hyper-realistic scene of a woman trudging through falling snow, her hair pale against her billowing coat and the nighttime darkness.
All those millions of distant telepaths had just fed him his own earliest memory. They probably knew his birth mother.
“Don’t leave.” Thomas hated to beg like a child. “Please.”
The Swift Killer walked away, uncaring, just as his unknown mother had done. Soon she was beyond his range of telepathy. Thomas could no longer sense the fabulous audience on many alien worlds.
“I have questions,” he said.