I woke up slowly on February 27th, thoughts slowly assembling themselves in that nice way they do on mornings where you have no obligations.
Until I realized that I did have an obligation and that it involved one of the worst normies in the whole Eighth Battalion.
And I was about to be late.
I shot out of my bunk and quickly started throwing on my uniform. I had woken up half the barracks at this point, but it was fine, we were all psionics; we had to be even more tight-knit than normal sol-
“I’m going to kill you when you get back, Averich,” said one of the guys.
“Duly noted,” I replied as I rushed out the door.
I ran full speed to the edge of the camp, then slowed to a seemingly-calm walk once I was in view of Captain Rysler and the normy I was going on this mission with.
True to form, he was glaring at me when I arrived.
“Psionic Averich. You’re late,” said Captian Rysler, a stern look man with an impressively stern-looking mustache.
“Sorry sir,” I said, not offering an excuse. It would only make me look bad, and that was not the impression I wanted to make. Aside from the bad impression being late had already made.
Captain Rysler started giving a final overview of the mission, but I tuned him out; it wasn’t complicated. Word was the Moshene had developed some sort of weapon that could affect psionics, people like me with mental abilities. We’d given Aukay the upper hand in this war.
I was supposed to infiltrate the Moshene camp only half a day away from here and gather what intel I could. Ridge was coming as back-up.
Speaking of which…I turned my attention toward Ridge’s mind and wasn’t surprised to find him mentally seething about the fact that he had to work with a psionic. Not an uncommon attitude among normies—normal soldiers. But Ridge seemed to have a special hatred in his heart towards us.
“You got all that?” Rysler finished.
I hurriedly nodded my head, and he eyed me. I shrank a little under his gaze. Thankfully, he chose not to call me out.
“All right, move out soldiers. Good luck.” With that, Rysler left me with Ridge, who turned toward me, spat at my feet, and then started walking toward in the direction of the Moshene camp.
This is going to be wonderful, I thought to myself as I began following him.
A few hours in and I was about to reach my limit.
Ridge was keeping up a nice tirade of thoughts about psionics, the plague we were on humanity, and how much he hated having to work with one. I could sense something deeper swirling in his mind, but his ranting thoughts drowned it out.
I would like to say that I genuinely tried to ignore it—it was all stuff I’d heard before—but by mid-afternoon, I’d had enough.
“Okay, could you please shut up?” I politely yelled at him.
He stopped in his tracks and looked at me like I was insane.
“I’m sorry,” I said insincerely, “but I’ve had to listen to you rant non-stop about psionics for the past 4 hours. If you’re going to internally complain, fine. But could you at least keep it down?”
“I am, I haven’t said a word,” he growled. “I can’t control the fact that you freaks can read my mind.”
“Not purposefully,” I tried to explain calmly, miserably failing. “But when you’re internally raging about something, your thoughts are so loud that I can’t help but overhear them.”
“Fine,” he said, crossing his arms. “How do I think quieter?”
I was taken aback by the sudden shift. “Oh. Um, well…we’ve found if you’re focused on one thought instead of going back and forth between several, that one thought ends up not being so obvious…” I’d never really had to explain this before.
“Great,” was all he said, and then started walking again. I could sense his thoughts still bouncing around for a few moments before they became sharply ordered…with intense loathing for me.
“Well,” I muttered under my breath, “that’s better than nothing.”
We reached the Moshene camp at sunset. When we were still two miles out, I started becoming aware of the mental buzz that represented all the people in the camp.
“Okay, we’re close,” I told Ridge, whose mind had finally become occupied with other things. “I’ll go scout out and find a target to impersonate. Should take less than an hour.”
“I’ll be waiting in that grove of trees,” he replied, pointing to our right.
I nodded and went off. It didn’t take me long to find a suitable target. Part of my psionic abilities allowed me to create visual illusions in people’s minds. It was a little complicated, but basically, I could make someone see something that wasn’t there. The Aukay army had found that this ability could be used to get psionics into enemy camps.
When I met Ridge in the grove, I relayed what I’d found to him. There was a soldier who was relatively new in camp and hadn’t formed many friendships yet. Not many people would interact with him, and since no one really knew him, they wouldn’t be able to tell if he was acting weird.
“Sounds good,” Ridge said non-committedly. He seemed…off. Knowing I shouldn’t, I focused in on his mind and found that he was replaying a memory, a memory of him and a woman laughing together—
I quickly stopped focusing on his thoughts before he realized what I was doing.
“Um…you gonna help me go get the soldier?” I asked instead.
He shook free of his reverie and joined me.
The switch-off went smoothly. I created a projection at the edge of camp only our target could see, and when he went to go investigate, Ridge grabbed him and knocked him out.
I put on his clothing and studied his face. Then I created a general projection, one that fooled the mind of everyone I was in close proximity with. Ridge muttered under his breath about demons when I donned the disguise. Of course.
But he wasn’t fully his normal self. He was still thinking about that woman…his wife? Ridge never shared much about his personal life, but the others said he lost someone close to him early on in the war and blamed psionics for the loss.
This wasn’t the time to focus on that, though. I told Ridge I’d check in with him tomorrow at sunset with any intel I’d found and then I went into the camp.
It was a little overwhelming at first and disorienting. The Moshene thinking in a different language always threw me off, but it only took a little bit for me to adjust—I already knew a fair amount of the language before I was drafted for the war effort. Then training as a psionic spy required that I be fluent.
It was the soldier’s free time right now, so I started making my way toward the command tents near the center of the camp. I still snuck around—regular soldiers wouldn’t be permitted here, but at least if I was caught they wouldn’t recognize me as Aukay.
After entering a few empty tents with no results, I noticed a man dressed in the uniform of an army scientist exiting a blue tent. I crept over to the tent and sensed two people inside, so I decided to just mentally listen in and see if they mentioned anything about a weapon. I caught snippets of their thoughts.
…scalability to the army might be difficult…
…Locked Door is actually working? We need to…
Suddenly one of the minds disappeared. Then the other did, too. Alarmed, I shot up. Had they just been killed? Then I noticed I could still hear voices—with my physical ears—coming from inside the tent. And not just two, but it sounded like there were four or five people in there.
And I couldn’t sense any of their minds.
“What is going on?” I whispered, backing up. That’s when I heard a footstep behind me—way too close. Whipping around, I was just in time to see a fist before I blacked out.
I woke up slowly, groggy. I was tied to a chair in a room lit by a few lamps, and my projection was no longer functioning.
“Morning, psychic,” said a gruff voice in Moshene.
“It’s actually psionic,” I mumbled. That earned me a cuff to the head, which sent my world reeling. Once I finally could focus again, I realized the gruff voice had been asking me a question.
“Sorry, could you repeat that?” I whispered, flinching in anticipation of another cuff. None came and he just repeated the question.
“I said, did you come alone?”
“Yes,” I lied. The man was quiet for a moment, then cuffed me again. I had to force myself not to throw up.
“I know you’re lying,” was all he said, and it finally occurred to me that I couldn’t hear his thoughts either. But there was someone else in the room…
“Is something wrong with me?” It slipped out before I could stop myself, and I hated how scared my voice sounded.
The man laughed, a deep belly laugh that did nothing to put me at ease.
“Looks like the Locked Door serum is working pretty well, isn’t it, Aria?” he boasted to someone else in the room; they must be the mind I sensed. The man finally came into my view; he was tall and heavily muscled. He leered at me.
“This stuff really does work. Thanks for helping us test it out; we couldn’t be sure that it only blocked Aria over there from hearing us,” he said, gesturing towards the person I couldn’t see.
Blocking? They can…they figured out a way to neutralize psionics, I realized as a weight of dread dropped into my stomach. This was the secret weapon, some sort of medicine? One of the scientists thought about needles before I got knocked out…
I needed to get this information to Ridge. The woman—Aria—suddenly gasped when I thought about Ridge. I realized my mistake. She was obviously a psionic, and though she was probably a prisoner, too, I couldn’t be sure she wouldn’t sell me out.
The guy looked at her, confused.
“Something wrong, Aria?”
She didn’t say anything for a moment, but I could sense her mind racing. Then,
“The Aukay battalion is moving in on the west border of the camp. They intend to slaughter everyone here!” she said, panic in her voice.
The interrogator didn’t hesitate a moment before rushing out of the room. Sirens began to sound a few moments later. I didn’t have time to say anything before she spoke up.
“Ridge is here with you? Does he know you’ve been captured?”
“Um, I’m not sure,” I said, confused. “How do you know him?”
She chuckled darkly. “I’m his wife. The Moshene captured me 4 years ago; they were thrilled to have captured one of Aukay’s psionics.”
She flinched at my outburst, and suddenly, I felt a famliar mind approach the room and stumble inside.
A moment of silence, then, “Aria?”
“Let’s have the family reunion later!” I practically screamed at him. He cut my ropes free and finally turning around, I saw him embracing his wife, tears streaming down his face. And his mind? Well, it was practically soaring.
We made it back to the camp safely, given that the Moshene camp was readying for what they thought would be a battle. I relayed the information to Captain Rysler, and Ridge finally is starting to not hate me quite so much. All in all, a good mission in my books.