His mind is a cesspit. It’s my duty to wipe it clean. If he remains an Other, if he’s allowed to nurse his hatred against us, eventually he will try to destabilise the Republic of Australia. The Others can’t be released back into society. If I don’t change him, he’ll never leave his prison cell. He’ll never know freedom. He whimpers when I press too hard. I temper the flow of my powers, grimacing. President Jean Caraway rests a hand on my shoulder. I slide inside the Other’s skull and seep into his synapses like ink into a sponge. When I’ve captured his thoughts, I pick out the ones that make him dangerously different. He won’t have them anymore, not after I’m done with him. The man slumps. Only the rope that strings him up keeps him from falling. “Imagine how much we’ll save by not keeping him in prison,” Jean exalts. I fall to my knees, gasping. “I can’t do this. I can’t change all of the Others. It’ll kill me.” “All you need is some rest, Kirsty,” Jean tells me, her hand now on the crown of my head, anointing me with her love. “How many Others have we locked up recently?” I ask. The figure she names is absurdly high. It will take years for me to convert them all to the Republic’s way of thinking. I mention this. “But you’ve never really tested your powers,” Jean says, kneeling beside me. Her palms skim my cheeks but her lips are withheld from me. “Surely you can do more than three a day. We have to make sure no one wants to hurt the Republic.” “I’ll see what I can do,” I say. She rewards me with a kiss, then steals it back when the man rouses. He smiles nervously as I cut him free and guide him to the door, where the Unity Assurance Agents are waiting with documents for his new life. He’s one of us now. He’s happy. We’re happy. Everyone is happy. “Can I go home now?” I ask. She grants me my freedom. My feet only just hit the driveway when the Others abduct me. They cover my eyes with cloth, bind burning rope around my wrists and throw me into the boot of a car run on gasoline, not one of the government-sanctioned solar ones. I’m burnt out from altering the man’s mind, but I’ll be okay in six hours. Then I can turn one of my captors into the perfect Republic citizen, or I can influence a handful to look the wrong way while I make my escape. I’m lifted by several pairs of hands and shoved roughly into a chair. They untie me and steal away the blindfold, leaving me alone in a tiny room covered with mirrors. I feel like a mime in a box as I spread my hands over the walls. I lash out with my fists, but my shimmering prison holds. When the skin on my knuckles breaks and adds a smear of crimson to my reflection, I sink back into the chair. I am powerless. Just like the man whose thoughts I repaired earlier. “If you let me go now, I’ll make sure you’re among the first to be re-educated,” I promise. “You won’t have to sit in a cell for long.” The mocking laughter bounces out from a hidden speaker and surrounds me. “Who are you to think we need re-educating?” “You know who I am. What I am. I know how angry you all are. You’d destroy everything we’ve built, given a chance — ” “Wrong.” Their tone is uncompromising. “We’re not angry about the good that’s been done, we’re angry about the fascist dictator who locks us up for thinking.” I shake my head. “Fascist? We live in a republic.” “If only it did what it said on the tin. When was the last time we had an election?” I sigh. “If we held elections, there would be dissent, chaos. Too many voices. Too much uncertainty.” “It’s not fair if only one voice gets heard!” they snarl. I keep my voice even. “There is no place for your anger here. It’s unwanted, it’s Other.” “Other. You call us that because we aren’t blind mice, because we have different opinions.” “I won’t stand for opinions that endanger lives,” I tell them. “You really don’t get it! We might be tempted to be violent, but we won’t hurt anyone. We just want a say in how things are done.” Some of my strength has returned, enough for me to peer into the dozens of minds ringing my cell. They dream of their children racing across the grass, dodging bindis and shouting with joy. But then the children slam face first into a wall. Their noses break. Blood gushes. They know I can make them laugh at the sight of their children, bloodied and distraught. To them, I am dangerous. “I would never make you watch your children suffer.” I feel stung. “I’m not a monster.” “But you punish us for having questions inside our heads. Most of us don’t even ask them or cause trouble.” I can’t claim that they’re lying. I’ve read the truth in their thoughts. “Those you surround yourself with,” my captor continues, “they think and speak with the same voice. Don’t you find that boring? Or is it so normal to you that anything that verges on being unique is Other?” I swallow. My mouth is dry. They keep talking. “It’s human to think bad thoughts about people, even our leaders. But we don’t act have to out those thoughts. We aren’t animals.” Later they feed me, water me, offer me a bed for the night. I’m surprised when they release me outside work the next day, the blindfold yanked off my eyes. When I walk to Jean’s office, I’m afraid to turn around, because I can feel their eyes on me, watching, waiting. Jean greets me. She takes me to a nearby prison and I brace myself, preparing to perform, even though I’m tired and shaken from my ordeal. But today is different. We stand on a balcony overlooking the prison yard, rows and rows of orange jumpsuits beneath us. Then Jean gives the order. Her guards start blasting indiscriminately into the crowd. Jean stretches her arms out either side of her. She’s either barring me from leaping down to help the panicked hordes or she’s making some sort of grand gesture. “This will save so much money!” she exclaims. “We can exterminate anyone who thinks about challenging us!” “In the old days, they would call that punishing a thought crime,” I say. It’s something the Others told me. “We should judge them on what they actually do.” “Thoughts become deeds,” Jean tells me, fire dancing in her eyes. “And you won’t have to expend your energy changing their minds — it costs you nothing to just read them!” I peruse the thoughts inside her guards’ heads. They adore her, because I planted that seed inside them. I reach for the people we’ve rehabilitated, the ones working in offices for the glory of the Republic. They’re all filled with nothing but what I’ve put there. I close my eyes but I cannot close my ears to the screaming. When they were born, they were doomed. Because they were born to think. I steal inside Jean’s head. She’s not expecting the intrusion, so she doesn’t notice it. Not that she’d be able to fight me if she did. Twisting a mind hurts me. Maybe it’s meant to be a warning. Jean raises her hands and orders, “Stop! Let them go!” Her guards, brainwashed into doing everything she says, comply. The gates are pulled open. The prisoners flee. Jean turns to me, eyes wide. “What have you done?” “I can’t let you kill people just for disagreeing with you,” I say. “They dream of bringing down the Republic! They hate us!” This time the mocking laughter comes from me. “They hate us because we treat anyone who is slightly different as a criminal — we call them Other, we say they’re wrong — but every voice should be heard, considered — ” “We only have peace because no one disagrees!” Jean cries. “You don’t know that,” I say, walking to the railing and resting my hands on it. “You never gave them the chance.” Jean is shouting at me, trying to change my mind the only way she can — with words. But she’s pissing into the wind, hoping something will stick. Her aim is atrocious. I crouch, perched on the railing. “Kirsty, no! I need you!” I could give in now, feel her hands on my skin and bask in the warmth of the love she gives so rarely. But the cost is too great. And I’m done being used. I leap to my death. It’s up to them whether or not they keep the peace I’ve forced onto them.