There will be heavy spoilers in my question. The plot is that a band of humans have been genetically engineered to be telepathic. Unfortunately, the engineered humans made the rest of humanity nervous, and were banished to an alien colony.

The colony does okay, despite hostile but low-tech aliens. However, things in the city begin to slowly deteriorate. Aliens suddenly appear 'out of nowhere', with the citizens discovering holes in the city walls that were clearly not new, but which the aliens are now using to infiltrate the city.

The protagonist also notes that while the telepathy trait would be expected to show up in 75% of offspring (25% having dual non-dominant genes), the actual births show almost no non-telepaths.

The story concludes by discovering that the non-telepaths notice things which the telepaths can't, because they're not being telepathically urged to ignore things (broken walls, aliens walking in their midst) which don't fit the narrative of the rest of city. In short, the normal humans see the world how it is because they're not burdened by the expectations of the whole city drowning out what their own eyes are telling them.

Any ideas what this is?

  • 2
    I know this. The (telepathic) people only see what the group consensus is, so everyone appears (to one another) to be young, healthy and good looking. Their city is beautiful, and it isn't until a transit pod falls from its tube that someone (who actually goes and pokes at the tube along its path) realizes there are holes that nobody is noticing. There is a kid who can see the aliens, whose mother (who the others think is crazy) protects. He becomes a general in the fight against the aliens who attack as soon as the aliens realize that they have been discovered.
    – DavidW
    Jun 27, 2018 at 22:15
  • The story is framed as a backgrounder for a new generation of non-telepathic children who are going to grow up to be the next generation of military leaders since they can't be fooled into overlooking the aliens.
    – DavidW
    Jun 27, 2018 at 22:16
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    There's a disease or parasite that people catch - that they thought had gone away - that makes their nose and chin grow so they look like classical witches. The narrator reacts badly when he finds out his wife has it, and then has to deal with the guilt of that reaction, especially when he realizes he probably gave it to her.
    – DavidW
    Jun 27, 2018 at 22:18
  • The inhabitants of Kakrafoon Kappa were aware of the disadvantages of telepathy!
    – user66716
    Jun 28, 2018 at 8:58
  • @DavidW Good memory. The "numbskull" (non-telepath) kid who can see the aliens is Carlo Fortini, and the alien disease is called "jaw bugs".
    – user14111
    Jun 28, 2018 at 9:15

1 Answer 1


This is Cobwebs, by Ray Brown. It was in the August 1987 Analog.

I seem to recall a conversation between the main character and one of the aliens, explaining that the human telepaths are refugees from persecution back on Earth. He gets the dusty response that they ought to be more philosophic and accept inevitable death without making a fuss.

"If we had a choice," she said, "maybe we would leave. But we don't have that choice. The people of Earth and the other planets that could support human life fear us and outnumber us greatly. They hate telepaths. This is the only planet where those humans who hate and fear us don't live. We had only the choice of being exiled here or being killed, and if we go back they will kill us."

We'd been trying that one on it for all four months—but I let Mary go on. Her own frustration would, I decided, be the most efficient convincer.

"Nor," she went on, "can we go exploring. Our enemies don't want us loose in the galaxy, so they gave us only enough fuel to get here. We must live here, for there is nowhere else for us to go. Can you understand me?"

"Well enough," it said. "It would be a moving tale if you creatures were of the sort that could accept an inevitable death with good grace."


"If you stay here, we will kill you. How many ways must I find to tell you that you are unwelcome? How many times must you tell me the same story? Why do you all persist in telling me you have no choice as if that were an excuse for taking what does not belong to you?" It turned to me. "We have accomplished nothing in four of your months. Release me or let me die."

  • Yep. I just read it in my copy of the August 1987 Analog. Matches perfectly.
    – user14111
    Jun 28, 2018 at 8:45

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