Land of Sugar and Banana Republics
by Stephen Tsai
Mindshadow looked down with interest as Bogata's Eldorado Airport came into view. It had taken fifteen minutes to make it here from New York; leaving a scorching trail of heat behind her and more than one sonic boom. Something to think about, she realized. She didn't want to start WWIII by having someone mistake her for a ballistic missile.
Turning her attention to her mission, Mindshadow took a moment to look over the city as she hovered above the streets and shook her head. It was in a pathetic state; she would be doing the world a favor vaporizing it from the Earth. It was a city that made the worst slums of New York look like paradise on Earth by comparison. Even the better parts of town looked run down; chipped walls and broken tiles were the norm. The small houses that lined the main roads were painted with little thought to the color of the houses next door. Garbage was piled high in the yards of many of the homes that would have looked abandoned had it not been for the people sitting on the porches. Every block had dirty filthy children begging for pesos; it was poverty the likes of which weren't seen anywhere in America or Western Europe. Well, Special Agent Green and Agent Karns had told her what to expect; both men had traveled here more than once. They both also complained about the high altitude giving both of them splitting headaches, but that wasn't a concern for her so long as she used her telekinesis to keep a cocoon of pressurized air around her. It also had the benefit of keeping the temperature around her to a moderate 68 degrees while everyone else sweltered from the equatorial heat. Ahead was one of the bars she was told was a popular hang out for the Cartel boys. It was time to get to work.
The entrance to the Pinata Verde was doorless, basically a hole cut into a galvanized metal wall. Loud, distorted Spanish music blared out from the cantina as drunken patrons stood elbow-to elbow and swayed to the rhythm of the music. As she entered, Mindshadow issued a subtle telepathic command to the crowd; compelling them to grant her a wide berth of room that none of them would notice nor remember. Although none of them could see her unless she permitted it, she would just as soon not have to touch their filth any more than she had to. Her eyes narrowed as she approached the bar. Two of the burly men at the bar looked just healthy and hygienic enough to suspect that they had unusually high income for the area. The pistols concealed in each man's belt confirmed it.
The two bullies, Roberto Ortega and Juan Cortegna their thoughts told her, were boasting about their bravery and manliness, both amplified by the alcohol in their systems. Mindshadow couldn't help but laugh. Inside, both men were cowards - only brave when they were pointing sub-machine guns at unarmed peasants. As for their represented manhood, well, "legends in their own minds" was the best cliche she could assign them. She shook her head as they started up their fourth retelling of the same stupid story. Enough of this, she thought and gestured. Both men went silent and followed her out of the cantina.
In an alley, Mindshadow sifted through their minds, gathering as much data as she could, as she didn't feel like talking to either man. Both of them worked for a minor member of the Cartel named Luis Colombar, a particularly foul-mouthed man who lived not far from here. He had tried to make up for his lack of culture by hiring the best architect in Colombia to design his home and had brought in an interior designer from New York to furnish it. The finished result simply highlighted that the home had far more sophistication and class than its owner did. Well, that would soon change, she told herself. Like the rest of the Cartel, the house was a fortress with no less than thirty armed men in the compound at any given time and a helicopter kept ready at a moment's notice. The one notable recent event was that he had recently acquired a new truck with monster tires; apparently "boys and their toys" wasn't a cliche restricted to the US.
After confirming that neither man believed that Colombar had any significant mechanical or electronically controlled weaponry aside from surveillance, Mindshadow came up with a fairly simple but effective plan. Although she could probably mesmerize the entire compound all at once, that kind of mental control wasn't permanent or absolute. To fully enslave them, she would need them fairly close together; a fifty-foot radius was her best guess. She wouldn't be able to custom-build a personality for each man the way she did for Bateman, Griffith and the others, but that was OK. These men were bullies, not skilled experts. Even without her enslaving them, they weren't using their minds for anything meaningful. She wouldn't be missing a thing.
Colombar's residence was smaller than the more prominent members of the Cartel were, but no one outside of the billionaire's club could have called it "small". Standing on the top of a small hill, it was surrounded by forest and mountains, other than the road leading up to the parking lot. A hundred yards of clear field stood between the clearing and the formidable white stucco perimeter wall. Secreted in the foliage surrounding the house were no less than twenty men with meaningful bulges under their arms. Their dark suits looked out of place next to the explosions of color supplied by the flowering plants.
Ortega and Cortegna walked up the driveway where they were quietly acknowledged with nods. Behind them and sixty feet above, Mindshadow followed them in. The batch ahead wasn't all of them; there would be more inside and around the perimeter, but it was a good start. She concentrated and focused her attention to the group of men and let the energy in her mind flow. She couldn't see all of them, but that didn't matter; she could see them in her mind by sensing their thoughts. As a group, she watched as their minds each clicked into place. A few of the more perceptive ones paused and blinked a few seconds, but by the time they might have realized what was happening, it was all over.
With that done, she then entered the courtyard and maintained her altitude. Ortega and Cortegna's minds had warned her that Colombar's residence did have a video surveillance around the perimeter, but it didn't point up nor inside the house. Once Ortega and Cortegna were inside, she dispatched them to do their duties. Cortegna would lead her to the video room that watched the cameras, while Ortega gathered the rest of the men. Once inside, Mindshadow could sense domestic staff and the rest of the bodyguards' minds near and at the perimeter, but no sign of Colombar. Hmm, she thought. A quick glance at a maid's simple mind confirmed that he was attending a meeting with the Production Committee and would be back shortly, along with his assistant Alejandro Perez. She sighed; how egotistical of these drug kingpins; they had spent so long controlling the country and the government, they had even started naming themselves official government-sounding titles. Then again, being power-hungry was something she could understand.
Colombar and Perez sat in silence as the stretch Mercedes 600 drove up the road leading to his house. Although the road was rough and poorly done, the powerful engine had no problems. The ride was exceptionally smooth because of the added weight; like most important dignitaries, Colombar had this car heavily modified and lovingly maintained. The car carried an additional thousand pounds of Kevlar armor embedded in vital areas, and thick polycarbonate windows that were spec'ed to stop a .30-caliber machine-gun round. The tires were filled with foam, not air, and the fuel tank was filled with a honeycombed metal lattice that would not prevent a fire, but would prevent a more dangerous explosion.
As the car pulled into the driveway, Colombar kept his thoughts to himself. He knew he was not respected nor appreciated for his efforts. Raised poor in the dirt farm of his childhood, he had clawed and climbed his way to the top of his profession mainly with guts, ruthlessness and a little luck. His one real regret was his lack of a formalized education, but fortunately he wasn't lacking any street smarts. He knew a lot about his business, but little else. For specialized expertise, he turned to assistants like his number two, Alejandro Perez. Perez was everything he was not - cultured, suave with an advanced law degree from Georgetown University, an MBA from Harvard and the savvy of an international trader. Unlike Colombar, who's idea of sophistication was having his way with a foreign girl instead of a local, Perez could discuss international politics, legal and ethical philosophy, and proper financial methodology on how to invest their money. Colombar needed him to help run his growing business, but he feared him as well. He knew that the more senior members of the Cartel invariable turned to Perez for advice and that Perez commanded the respect of DeLorenzo and the others far more so than he ever would. Perez had never given any sign that he had ambitions to supplant him, but leadership in this business was often built on the backs of murdered friends and broken loyalties. It was his one fear; more than any threat from the enforcement agencies. He had planned to put this fear to rest for good soon but he would have never guessed that this would be rectified on this very day.
Inside, Colombar walked into his home as the men gave perfunctory acknowledgements. Perez paused as he entered. Something about the men didn't seem right, but lacking any frame of reference, he put it aside and followed Colombar. It was the last independent thought he would have.
"Dios...!" Colombar exclaimed as he entered the main den. Behind him, Perez came to a stop and gasped with surprise. Hovering ten feet above Colombar's personal chair in a seated position, Mindshadow turned her attention away from the original artwork that decorated the custom-built walls and faced her guests.
"Not yet, Luis," Mindshadow replied with a smile. "But soon." She gestured for them to enter and both men did so, compelled by a force neither had felt before and stood no chance of resisting. They both sat down on the well-worn leather sofa as Mindshadow went through both men's minds. Although she didn't anticipate living here, she knew these men were the main contacts for the rest of the Cartel and she needed them not to act suspiciously next time they met. After implanting slavish obedience to her into their minds, she went back over and restored their personalities as accurately as she could, then took time to craft a mental image of their minds unshackled and free. If another telepath were to do a cursory scan, they wouldn't see anything amiss. Only a deep probe would detect that and she would be able to feel such a deep probe were one attempted. Once done, both men stood up to greet her in their own manner.
"We have returned my dear," Columbar exclaimed. He then embraced her around her waist as she descended until she was only a foot off the ground.
Mindshadow's nose wrinkled, didn't this man ever bathe? She swore that she could almost see the drool coming from his mouth as his eyes did their best to undress her in his little mind. Well, she couldn't very well reign in his lust for pretty girls without drawing suspicion, but she didn't have to put up with it here. "Sleep," she willed, and was thankful as he dropped instantly to the ground. He'd wake up in a few hours to be as slovenly as ever.
Perez stepped forward and took Mindshadow's hand gently and smiled, flashing perfect teeth and enough charisma to stop a charging bull. "You must forgive my superior's manners. He cannot help himself when standing in front of one so beautiful as you." He kissed her hand and beckoned for her to follow. Mindshadow's heart skipped a beat and she was a little embarrassed that she was blushing. His voice was velvet smooth and the accent reminded her of Ricardo Montalban. Unlike Colombar, who couldn't shed his poverty-based upbringing, Perez wore the expensive gray Armani suit as if he'd been born to wear it. No wonder Colombar was so worried, she thought to herself. And he was right; Perez was being quietly approached by the more sophisticated members of the Cartel for a promotion once Colombar met with an unfortunate and unexpected end. Well, she wouldn't have a problem with that; if the Cartel was smart enough to promote this man, that was fine with her. The less she would have to put up with Colombar's piggish behavior swimming in her mind, the better.
Perez led Mindshadow into his personal office. Like the rest of the house, it was richly decorated. The desk was a deep velvet mahogany and an expensive gold pen set rested on the matte. A powerful personal computer sat in the corner and filing cabinets were neatly organized. The bookshelves were inlaid and matched the wood floor and held several years of legal and financial reference materials. All in all, Mindshadow was impressed; she would have been more than happy to bring this man back to serve her to the States, but right now, he was more valuable here.
"This is our current ledger for the last twelve months. Each member of the Cartel has their own methods for bringing product into their markets and getting their payments back. I've helped to develop a method of bringing the money back to our country bypassing the conventional banking system by using peso brokers in the US and here in Columbia. We've had to develop this method because we do not have quite as powerful a sponsor as Maximillian Powers helps Omar Borjas."
Mindshadow looked over the ledger. While some of the details might have been unclear, she could read a ledger just fine. Perez's scheme was simple but elegant; basically they purchased pesos locally in Columbia from a broker who would then take the dollars in the US and funnel them into US banks, avoiding any form of transaction fees or financial trails. The bottom line was something of note. "You make this much in a month?"
"That is our gross; we have expenses, of course. Our payments to DeLorenzo, payments to local enforcement here in Columbia and in the US, and of course, the laborers in the fields for processing the product."
"How much is actually going to Colombar?" Mindshadow scanned further down the sheet and noted the number. "He's making almost $600,000 US dollars a month?"
"Well, not quite that much," Perez smiled, "and of course, some of that pays for my services as well."
Mindshadow concentrated for a moment and issued a mental command all the way back to New York. A few moments later, she then issued another silent command, which Perez complied with at once.
"This is an account in an East European bank who happens to have a lousy record on international financial compliance. My servant back home has just set it up. I want this much money wired to this account every two weeks. It won't be staying there of course, but it's a good place to start."
"It will be done. But what about Colombar?"
Mindshadow smiled. "He could stand to lose some weight, don't you think? I'll see to it that he doesn't miss it. I don't want DeLorenzo's payments shorted; for now, I want this kept quiet. Besides, I have some influence with the American DEA in Miami. I'll set up some procedures for you to get your product across without any interference so long as you follow my instructions. Once those are in place, your decreased operating expenses should make some of that amount back for Colombar to buy himself more trucks and cars if he so wishes. As for your product, it may help me to see how it gets made so I can help move things along back in the US."
Perez shook his head. "I'm afraid I don't involve myself in that side of the business. Colombar established the facility that processes our product."
Mindshadow sighed and relented. A light touch on Colombar's mind earned a grunt from the next room, followed by the sound of approaching footsteps.
"Wh-what happened?" Colombar asked as he stumbled into the office.
"We're going for a little trip," Mindshadow declared. "I've already commanded your men to prepare that shiny new truck you like so much to bring you there." She looked him over one last time with disdain. "Try and clean yourself before you go."
Colombar nodded with uncharacteristic compliance, and went upstairs. On his way up, he passed by one of the many potted plants at the base of the stairway. What he didn't notice was a tiny glass bubble concealed in the stalk of one of the blooming flowers.
"Pablo, come take a look at this," called a security man as he watched the video.
Captain Pablo Diego came over and looked at the camera. As one of the senior men, he was trusted with the nature of the information being monitored here. His master had an interest in keeping an eye on his investments and that made sense he thought. Normally, the camera didn't reveal a thing of note besides the usual drivel of that fat fool Colombar blaming some poor servant for his own mistakes.
"What the hell...?" Diego asked as he watched the improbable scene unfold before him.
"I'm running her picture through the database," the junior officer declared as he punched a set of keys.
Diego watched as the picture from the video froze, then spliced out the young girl hovering off the ground and compared her appearance, costume, and visible metahuman abilities against a database of known metahumans. The disk drives spun and the screen blinked:
Generallisimo Juan Hernandez was a giant of a man in more ways than one. Standing seven feet tall with the musculature to match, he dominated any meeting with his presence alone. The undisputed ruler of Santo Domingo, he ruled with an adroit combination of political savvy and merciless brute force. What one hand offered, the other hand often took away. His personal presidential guard, Los Soldaditos, had learned to the man that he was not to be trifled or questioned. The fact that his dedication to the Hispanic people was a sham was well known as was his connections to the Columbian Cartel, which didn't bother any of these men one bit. Their pay had to come from somewhere and if it came from the backs of Americans who clearly had too much money on their hands, well, it was their loss.
Inside the small observation post, Generallisimo Hernandez watched the video playback with calculating eyes. Although the computer didn't know anything, his own experience had already picked up quite a bit of knowledge. This girl obviously had the ability to fly, a fact she clearly reveled in flaunting since she had not touched the ground since the time she had arrived. The bigger concern was that both Colombar and Perez were complying with her, as was his security detail. Either they had decided to turncoat, which he didn't believe for an instant, or this girl had achieved some kind of hold over them.
"Why do they not resist?" one soldier asked.
"The girl is a telepath," Hernandez declared. "It's the only logical explanation. Any other metahuman power would have more visible signs than this."
"And they cannot fight back?" another soldier asked.
Generallisimo Hernandez snorted with derision. "Colombar and his bodyguards are all weak-minded fools; a six-year-old with a shiny coin could probably achieve the same results. Which is why he will never be anything more than DeLorenzo's lapdog." That Perez appeared to be equally submissive however was a disappointment; Hernandez would have hoped for better than that from him.
"And she does this to him...?"
"Clearly she hopes to steal some money or cocaine from him. Given that virtually all telepaths across the world tend to avoid mind-altering substances for obvious reasons, it stands to reason that she's after his money."
"Does he have money at the house?"
"Most of the members I have had dealings with have a substantial amount available, though most of their wealth is tied in investments and international accounts. I wouldn't put it past Colombar to keep a large amount of cash at his hacienda though." Probably under his mattress, he speculated. "Be that as it may, while it may amuse me watching Colombar being led around like the puppet he is, it would not bode well to my business relationships with DeLorenzo if Colombar is allowed to use this excuse to be short on his tribute. After all, my payments from DeLorenzo are based on what he gets from the other members of the Cartel. And this American bitch should be taught an object lesson about stealing from the Hispanic people." He smiled. "One that I will administer personally."
Captain Diego spoke up. Being the senior man on site, he was the only one who had to clout to do so. "She is a metahuman with unknown parameters. Shall I summon Los Soldados to accompany you?"
Hernandez pondered that for a moment before shaking his head. "No, they are already suspicious from the incident with El Jaguar and the Americans. This information must remain closely held. She's only one girl; I shall see to this myself." He turned to another man and pointed with authority. "Ready my private jet and Los Soldaditos."
"At once!" the soldier snapped before turning to leave.
As preparations readied themselves, Hernandez took a moment to study the frozen surveillance frame again and smiled. The girl was quite young and very pretty indeed. He didn't consider himself a pedophile, but perhaps he would take his time humbling her.
Mindshadow regarded the small shack with disappointment. When they said they were going to examine one of the refineries, she was envisioning a large professional facility with advanced automation. What she got was a tiny 10' x 10' wooden shack. However, Colombar's mind informed her that most of it was underground and actually quite a bit larger than it appeared. It was certainly remote enough; they had traveled to the tiny town of Ceratibo, nestled in the mountains and forest about forty miles north of Bogata. From there, it was an additional few miles into the woods before they had arrived.
Inside the hut, Colombar opened a trapdoor under the mats on the floor. They descended a ladder to a dirt floor twenty feet below as Mindshadow levitated behind them. The room at the base of the ladder was the exact same size as the hut and gave the impression of an Old West mine. The crumbling dirt walls were held at bay with rotting timbers, and a single rusty oil lamp provided light. At one end of the room was a metal door. It too was covered with dust and mud, making it look less out of place than would be expected. It opened, as if by magic, when Colombar approached.
The underground structure took on a much different look as they passed through the door. Timbers were replaced by cinderblocks painted a uniform white. Waiting for them were four serious looking men holding sub-machine guns. Mindshadow had noted their presence before she even entered and had everyone in the underground facility enslaved within seconds. For now however, she commanded them to continue doing as they were before. They were the ones making the product and until she understood how it was done, it didn't make sense to interfere.
"These vats are full of coca leaves. First we cover the leaves with potash and let them sit for a while." Colombar then led the party into the next room and pointed to another set of trays with dried leaves and ash. "The ash begins to separate the alkaloids from the leaf. At that time, the mix is doused with kerosene. As the leaves soak, the alkaloids begin to float in the kerosene." Before they entered the next room, Colombar offered everyone masks to protect from the kerosene fumes, but Mindshadow refused, as it wasn't necessary for her. Though he was a pig, Mindshadow was reluctantly forced to raise her opinion of the man. His lecture was lyrical and detailed. Clearly he knew a lot about the manufacturing side of this business, which explained why he had been able to elevate himself, despite his limitations.
"We squeeze the kerosene from the leaves and put it into drums," Colombar continued as he gestured at the steel drums that lined the walls. "Sulfuric acid and water are then mixed with the kerosene-alkaloid solution. The acid helps to transfer the alkaloids to the water, which sinks to the bottom. The kerosene is then removed, leaving a mixture of water and cocaine, which is then dried into a paste." They finally exited the room where kerosene was being processed and replaced the masks on wall hooks. The next room was a small laboratory with glassware that held large quantities of an off-white Play-Doh-like substance. Colombar broke off a baseball-sized chunk and held it up for examination. Mindshadow looked at it, not with her eyes, but with her mind, feeling the molecules with her telekinesis. The material was crude and still loaded with impurities, but it was clearly raw cocaine. The amount in Colombar's hand would refine down to a little more than half that size in pure form before it was packaged for selling. On the streets of New York, this small amount would be cut with sugar or talc, and then sold to people in all walks of life. From what had probably cost Colombar less than a stick of gum; it would sell to its final users for over $15000. It was capitalism at its best.
As she began to ponder the money for even this relatively small operation, a tingling in her mind interrupted her reverie. She focused on it; someone was coming into Bogata airspace. Someone who had her on his mind. "Luis, this has been interesting, but I think it's time for you and Alejandro return to your villa at once." She looked up, not at the ceiling, but at the approaching hostile thoughts. They were only fifty miles away and closing fairly fast. Helicopter or a turboprop plane she judged. Probably the former, given how popular Gulfstream Lears were in this part of the country among the filthy rich. She mentally started a telepathic feedback loop within her own mind, which would increase her already-formidable powers by almost 50%. She smiled as she phased through the ceiling to meet the men at the surface. "Someone wants to play."
She watched the Monster Truck lumber its way back onto the road back to Bogota, its giant tires having no problems with the uneven roads. Maybe Colombar did know what he was doing when he bought it; what was considered only fit for rodeo shows back in the US was eminently practical here. Once they were out of sight, she floated up to about 100 feet in the air and centered herself over the middle of Ceratibo. Whoever it was must have had a separate surveillance system at Colombar's place; something she'd have to have Perez look into. She wanted to draw them away from the facility; small though it was, there was no sense in giving this person its location. And she was really looking forward to crushing someone who was worth the effort.
"Contact Generallisimo!" the pilot called. "Single target, female, hovering over the middle of Ceratibo, thirty-five miles north of our position!"
"Is she moving or displaying any sign of power?" Hernandez asked.
"Scanners are picking up a force wall surrounding her, but she's just hovering there. It looks like she's expecting us."
Hernandez frowned slightly. He had anticipated confronting this girl by surprise at Colombar's residence. What was she doing way up here? And how did she know he was coming? Well, her false bravado would be her own undoing; it saved him the effort of tracking her down. "Close in and land in the nearest clearing. Once we're down, the rest of you men deploy into the woods. When I give the signal, you will all open fire."
The members of Los Soldaditos all nodded and saluted in unison. Within minutes, the helicopter was at the outskirts of Ceratibo. Mindshadow watched it approach; she could have incinerated it instantly with a thought, but no, better to let it land. Dead people couldn't be enslaved after all. As it touched down, the soldiers entered the woods as a single lone figure strode forward into town. His size and presence instantly revealed him to be the leader as Mindshadow lowered herself to an altitude of thirty feet to better appreciate the view.
"I am Generallisimo Juan Hernandez," he proudly declared. "As protector of the Hispanic peoples and defender against American tyranny, I command that you to explain your actions against one of my people!"
Interesting, Mindshadow thought. His mind was quite strong and protected by a psi-shield. Not as strong as hers, but it was still rare to see another shielded mind. She looked down upon him with contempt. "Do all you Latinos guys talk too much or is it a personal weakness of yours?"
"You dare insult my heritage?" Hernandez replied harshly.
Mindshadow made a dismissive gesture. "The only person I've stolen money from was a drug dealer. And I did it without harming him one bit. He's back to being his own foul self."
"It is not your money to take!"
"It's mine now. And if you want it back, then you'll have to take it from me."
"Indeed I will!" With that, Hernandez seized a fallen log and hurled it at Mindshadow with superhuman strength. The log flies up like a javelin, shredding itself to pieces against Mindshadow's force bubble. Undaunted, Hernandez follows it up with a psi-strike directly against Mindshadow's mind. A powerful telepathic shield stops the blast, dissipating its effectiveness.
Mindshadow looked down on Hernandez with a raised eyebrow. "For your sake, I hope you can do better than that."
"You insolent American brat! I'll show you better!" He reached out telekinetically, seizing multiple objects from all around the small town, scattering the people as the battle became increasingly widespread. From all directions, objects of all kinds ranging from iron tools to bricks hurtled themselves against Mindshadow's force bubble only to bounce off harmlessly.
Mindshadow looked around with amusement, and then turned her attention back to Hernandez. "Very well, I suppose I should stop toying with you now." With that, she focused her power and clamped onto his mind.
What was this, Hernandez thought? He had experienced mental blasts before, and had prepared for such with his mental shield. But this felt different; somehow he could feel his very will being siphoned away from him. And where were his defenses? Why weren't they stopping this attack?
Poor, deluded old man, Mindshadow thought. While he was much older and more experienced than she was in conventional warfare, she was born with and grew up honing her telepathic combat techniques all her life. She had forgotten more about advanced psionic combat tactics than most people would ever learn. Including how to spot and exploit weaknesses that were present in everyone's mind, even shielded ones.
They were like leeches, Hernandez realized. The attacks weren't meant to injure like most telepaths employed; these attacks were sucking away his will to resist, and drawing the power into his opponent. Her attacks were getting stronger and faster, and his mind was getting weaker with each passing second. Concentration was becoming difficult and his defenses were proving as useless as tissue paper.
Nodes, she had once called them. They were the overlapping planes of thought that were present in everyone's mind. Each train of thought formed a thread; groups of them formed ideas, which were mentally represented by planes. Concepts and ideas collectively formed crystalline structure, which was the basis of personality and sentience. Most people's minds were open books to her and ridiculously easy for her to rewrite and rearrange. Psionicists tended to organized their planes of thoughts into walls to screen off and protect their more vital personality elements. These walls helped to block outside intrusion, depending on strength. But Mindshadow had observed that even walls had weaknesses; seams and cracks between the planes that she had trained herself to exploit. In Hernandez's case, what had once been a fairly strong fence against intrusion had been reduced to a rickety gate that was wide open to her probes and strikes. With the target softened up, it was time to step things up.
It was getting cold, Hernandez thought. No, it couldn't be; they were near the Equator. But his mind insisted that it was now sub-Arctic temperature. He could feel the wind biting into his flesh like knives as his skin was going numb. She's placing these thoughts in my head, he realized. He had always hated the cold and she had apparently picked up on that. He tried to clench his eyes and force himself to realized the illusion, but his mind was just too tired. He tried to pick up an item near him to hurtle at her to disrupt the multiple attacks that had reduced his mind into hash. But the rocks next to him barely wobbled; his mental powers and will were all but gone.
"It's over General," Mindshadow declared as she gently closed her fist. "Your will is mine. Say it!"
"My will...is yours..." Hernandez mumbled weakly as he collapsed to his knees.
"You must do my bidding."
Mindshadow increased her mental barrage as Hernandez mind crumbled a little more. "Say it!"
"I must...put an end to this!" Hernandez exclaimed with unexpected strength and pressed a button on his belt.
"Oh please..." Mindshadow replied contemptuously. "Did you really think those idiot soldiers could sneak up on me?" She gestured casually and Hernandez watched with dismay as his soldiers all walked out of their concealed locations with blank expressions on their faces. "You'll pardon me while I have some fun?"
Hernandez watched with horror as Mindshadow's mental commands swept over his men with contemptuous ease. They froze and recoiled as demons, tentacles, and hideous monstrosities from their own fears and imaginations were given life and sent to destroy their masters. They fired their weapons fruitlessly; they screamed and begged for mercy. And to the last man, they gave in to their darkest fears and despairs. He wanted to order his men to fight on, but it was clearly hopeless. He blinked at the sight, and then realized that he was no longer being bombarded with Mindshadow's mental assaults. The look on Mindshadow's face made it clear that she was enjoying herself digging through his brave soldiers' minds, raping their memories as their own deceased loved ones were used to bait them to their deaths. Part of him wanted to strike her while her back was turned, both for his brave soldiers and for his own humiliation. But no, she had boasted that they couldn't sneak up on her, and the fact that his soldiers were so easily defeated forced him to take that threat seriously. He staggered back to the helicopter, taking one last look at the massacre before ordering the pilot to take off immediately. Rest easy, mamanos, he promised. You will be avenged.
Mindshadow giggled as she watched these pathetic fools danced and screamed at shadows. So easy; at least Hernandez had a mental shield, useless thought it may have been. These poor fools didn't have even that. It was like being a cruel almighty God. Whatever she wished was instantly their reality. Her every whim was their obedient command. The feeling of omnipotence was addictive. Her powers rarely operated at these levels; siphoning off Hernandez's will had boosted them higher than she had ever felt. The energies were literally surging through her mind like a tidal wave. Well, enough fun. Time to get back to work. She turned back around and stopped. Where the hell...? She mentally scanned the area, but Hernandez was nowhere to be found. She broadened her scan, and started picking up people in Bogata, but still no General. Mindshadow pouted with frustration; where was that cowardly...
"Foolish American brat! Did you really think Generallisimo Juan Hernandez would be so easily defeated?"
Mindshadow looked around with her mental senses, but couldn't pick up a thing. Hernandez must have been thinking, not projecting and had anticipated that her own telepathy would pick it up. "You coward...!" she shot back.
"A true warrior knows when it is time to regroup for another engagement," Hernandez's mental voice continued to taunt. "But then, you wouldn't know that would you? You are a novice playing a game with professionals. No, I am mistaken; you are a spoiled brat, no true threat."
Mindshadow trembled with anger as the air around her cracked with pure psionic energy. Why that pompous, arrogant...! As she fumed, her mind envisioned all sorts of horrible things she wanted to do with him. Then without warning, the excess energies in her mind erupted with a multi-phased psionic wave of power. First the telepathic wave hit and swept through the town, filling the minds of every resident with hate, rage and terror, ripping their memories, personalities and very identities to shreds. Seconds later, the next wave of telekinetic energy ripped through town, blasting buildings, cars, and people with the force of a military multi-tonnage weapon. The lucky ones were the ones who died instantly, blasted to bone before they realized any pain. Finally, a wave of pure molecular force rippled through the remains of the town, altering the very atomic structure of the ground into ash and toxic substances. When the smoke finally cleared, Mindshadow looked around and blinked with disbelief. Did she really just do all this? Oh God...what a disaster...she had really blown it this time.
For nearly a minute, Mindshadow wondered frantically what to do. She thought about trying to put the village back together, but that would have been futile to the lives she had just snuffed out. She didn't intend this to happen; it was an accident. But would anyone believe her? Probably not, and the country would be looking for a scapegoat quickly. Shaking her head with confusion, Mindshadow closed her eyes and headed north. The Columbian Air Force would probably be responding soon and while she was sure she could defeat them all, such an action would no doubt provoke a response from other nations, and threaten to spiral this event even more out of control. She had made enough mistakes this time; it would best to follow Hernandez's example and return another day.
Below was the smoking funeral pyre of what was once a small village. Only burnt and flattened ruins remained; its occupants now reduced to ash, crushed into jelly or driven mad by the mental barrage. It would be days later when the first observers from the government would arrive. They would recoil with shock and horror. There had been no warning. No sign of any weapon discharge. And worst of all, no cause or motive. Nothing to be gained by any nation or individual they could discern. Yet for all that, they would all arrive at one inescapable conclusion.
Ceratibo was no more.
"Madros de Dios...!" the soldier trembled with fear.
Generallisimo Juan Hernandez watched the video playback in silence. While not quite as in awe as his soldiers, he was forced to admit that he didn't like what he saw. Clearly, this girl's evaluation needed to be substantially upgraded. What really galled him was that his forced retreat. Someone without tact would have suggested that he tucked tail and ran away. From a spoiled brat American girl! Fortunately, any man who would have suggested such a thing out loud would have been dead before the body hit the floor.
"Indeed," Hernandez nodded. "It would appear that there is more to this girl than initial impressions would suggest. Fortunately, I have already determined her biggest weakness."
The rest of the men looked at El Presidente with doubts and concern. None of them were looking forward to facing this girl in the near future, and if it came down to that, well, it wasn't that far from the States, was it?
Hernandez silently noted his men's fear. Well, of course, none of them could equal him, could they? "For all her power, she is still a child; a spoiled child, by her reactions here. So powerful, and undoubtedly used to having her way so easily, she's forgotten how to deal with adversity, unexpected events and planning."
"Then...we are going to go after her?" one of the men asked with as much conviction as he could muster, which wasn't much.
"No, we shall not soil our hands with her. First, contact Los Soldados and inform them that this vicious terrorist bitch has committed an act of terrorism against the very people they have sworn to protect." El Presidente was in full swing now as he became animated and grandiose in his mannerisms. Inwardly, he smiled with the irony; he wouldn't even have to lie this time. El Tornado could do as many mind scans as he wanted and he would be forced to come to the same conclusion. "Second, I want you to start a file on her. Establish a group of agents to be on the lookout for any additional manifestations of her power. Someone as powerful and immature as her cannot remain hidden for long. When we next meet, I wish to be prepared for every eventuality."
The New York Athletic Club was located in South Central Park and was one of the oldest and most prestigious clubs in the country. Founded in 1868, the NYAC attracted members who have excelled in every conceivable area of industry, commerce, science and the arts. The names of many NYAC members, past and present, were synonymous with excellence in their specialized fields. For this reason, the NYAC called itself "the world's greatest athletic club" and there were very few competitors that could dispute that claim.
On the fourth floor, Mindshadow closed her eyes and relaxed her body as an expert masseuse gave her a massage in the women's steam room. It had been first time in a long time she was out of costume and to tell the truth, it was enjoyable. In addition to her body, she relaxed her normally focused concentration that kept her powers reined in. That her stray thoughts were causing mild hallucinations, false memories and odd behaviors all over the city didn't concern her for the moment.
She regretted that she lost control back in Ceratibo. It didn't gain her a thing and cost her anonymity. She would have to deal with the repercussions in the coming days. Hernandez was right; she was a novice in the game of conquest. She had allowed the cruel, immature part of her to run the show and she lost the battle for it. She had been lucky that all she lost was her pride. Next time, she thought, it might be against the Protectorate and she'd end up in Purgatory Prime. Or it might be against the Royal Elite who would likely try to enslave her or just kill her. For all her power, she was still only seventeen years old and the intellectual part of her knew that her emotional state was probably even less mature than that. She sighed; she had to be smarter than that next time, or it might be all over for her. And that'd be a damn shame.
After several minutes, she willed the masseuse to stop and tipped him a hundred dollars she pulled from her Caymans account. Though she was borrowing Bateman's club membership, she figured it didn't hurt to tip the man. She then concentrated and willed her costume to reform and flow around her back to its proper place. Levitating up to the ninth floor terrace, Mindshadow had a lime club soda waiting for her. She thought about having liquor, but she wanted her head clear. Super-telepath or not, alcohol messed with her head as much as the next person. The breeze of the evening drifted across the open-air balcony, carrying the sounds and smells of the city. Her city, she had vowed. Well, if she wanted that, she'd better plan better. Her thoughts were interrupted as she felt Bateman's mind coming out of the elevator next to the high-stakes card games taking place on the other side of the building. She finished her soda as he made his way to her and sat down.
"So how did Columbia turn out?"
Mindshadow sighed. No point lying to the man. "It could have been better. On the plus side, Luis Colombar now serves my will. He'll be sending payments to the Swiss account you set up starting next week. $350,000 per month, coming out of his own cut, so his patron DeLorenzo shouldn't be the wiser."
"$350K, wow," Bateman smiled. "I guess he can kiss that new yacht goodbye."
"He's got plenty; cocaine's still popular here, regardless of the war on drugs. Several members of this club use it." Mindshadow's eyebrow arched. "Would you like to know who they are?"
"Maybe later. What was the minus side?"
"I got into a fight with Generallisimo Hernandez. It seems he's not quite the super-patriot he claims to be. But anyway, I had him in the palm of my hand. He was ready to break, I'm sure of it. But I got careless and started playing around and he was able to resist my will long enough to take the opportunity to escape. I got frustrated, then I lost control and nuked a village." Mindshadow bit her lip at the missed opportunity. "If I had enslaved him, I would probably have a hundred times the wealth Colombar's sending, not to mention owning an entire country. Even worse, Columbia isn't going to just let my slip-up go by. They're going to want answers so I'm going to have to make arrangements for them to find one."
"Well, it's just as well you didn't get that much money too quickly." Bateman opened his briefcase and pulled out several pamphlets. "Your cash reserves are beginning to fill up fast enough that someone's going to start noticing, even in the world of anonymous accounts. If you want to maintain some anonymity in the world, you're going to need to spread some of this money around."
"Simple really. I've pulled up a list of real estates and corporations for you to look at. Diversifying the portfolio will actually help improve your earnings and make the accounts less suspicious. All these properties are substantially undervalued by people I trust, and the funds I've outlined will make it harder to trace when you decide to start investing the money for political purposes."
Mindshadow shook her head and waved it off. "You take care of it. I've got some more direct business to take care of. The only other thing I need you to do is to covertly purchase some warehouse real estate I can convert into a research facility."
Bateman nodded. "Anything else I need to know?"
Mindshadow shrugged. "I need to pay a visit to someone in prison."
Bateman blinked. "Who?"
Mindshadow looked out onto the city and finished her drink. "A new recruit."
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