Source: Dulled Mind by Jared J. Fleming
Dulled Mind is a novel, simply put, about Naomi’s life. And Naomi’s life isn’t exactly easy.
She goes from port to port, trying to hide her true nature as a psion from an intolerant and fearful world. She makes her living by being hired by governments to destroy targets, to complete missions that those in power don’t want their names attached to. One wrong move, and a planet turns against her. One misstep, and people around her die. She’s been doing this for fifteen years, and every day, she knows she comes closer to making enemies with the wrong people, displaying her powers at the wrong time. How long until the balancing act falls apart?
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Every night, it was the same. The same background. Same foreground. Same voices. Same half-formed creatures whispering in her ear. The same mantra, thousands of times, from a thousand mouths.
“Let us in, let us out. Let us in, let us out. Let us in, let us out.”
Naomi refused, every time. At every request one of the monsters made, she would reply with silence. Some got clever, or at least tried to be, showing her childish visions of empires and kingdoms to call her own, like she still held the infantile fantasy of princesshood close to her heart. Some got violent, almost lashing out at her with pseudopods that flickered between existence and ethereality. They never actually struck her. Something held them back mere inches from her face. Most just kept to discordant, chaotic chanting.
Thirty-five years of this had jaded Naomi, to say the least. Maybe when she was ten, the creatures had a chance. Instead of silence, she would flee, hot tears streaming down her face and barely formed words pouring from her mouth. But those things did not pursue her then. They only did when she was old enough to control herself and her psionics.
They only wanted her when she became useful…
“Every night, it was the same. The same background. Same foreground. Same voices. Same half-formed creatures whispering in her ear. The same mantra, thousands of times, from a thousand mouths.
“Let us in, let us out. Let us in, let us out. Let us in, let us out.”
Naomi refused, every time. At every request one of the monsters made, she would reply with silence. Some got clever, or at least tried to be, showing her childish visions of empires and kingdoms to call her own, like she still held the infantile fantasy of princesshood close to her heart. Some got violent, almost lashing out at her with pseudopods that flickered between existence and etherality. They never actually struck her. Something held them back mere inches from her face. Most just kept to discordant, chaotic chanting.
Thirty five years of this had jaded Naomi, to say the least. Maybe when she was ten, the creatures had a chance. Instead of silence, she would flee, hot tears streaming down her face and barely formed words pouring from her mouth. But those things did not pursue her then. They only did when she was old enough to control herself and her psionics.
They only wanted her when she became useful. ”
Naomi rounded the corner, pushing herself off the wall before she crashed. Her legs burned. Her lungs felt like hell. Panic pumped through her body, every muscle tensing as hard as it could. She could hear the people behind her, running as fast as they could in their armor. Faster than her. They were gaining, gaining!
Naomi’s mind raced, trying to figure out where to go. Panic clouded her mind. An elevator shot downwards through its tube. Naomi took the chance. She tore the elevator door open, straining through the panic to make her powers work.
She felt a prick in her arm, a tiny needle. It didn’t matter, it really couldn’t matter. She flung herself down the elevator shaft, and decreased gravity around her. Instead of plummeting, she managed to slow herself down and sort of glide to the maintenance ladder of the floor. The elevator had stopped some ways down. Maybe it was safe to jump? No, she wouldn’t take the chance.
Naomi descended down the ladder. Her muscles hurt. Her lungs ached. Every breath was difficult, every motion brought more pain. The little prick felt more like a match bad been extinguished on her skin. But she was safe.
Maybe not safe.
Then the elevator started moving, this time up. Naomi’s eyes widened. Only one thought crossed her mind. Shit.
She jumped. Landed on the top of the elevator. Fucked up the landing, and felt her ankle twist. She sputtered, pulling in air with short, haggard breaths. She tried her best to reset it, but she couldn’t do much. She didn’t know which tendon to affect, which nerve was screaming, and so any attempt merely dampened, instead of eliminated. But it was good enough. She got on her knees, grabbing the emergency exit hatch of the elevator and throwing themselves down it. The rather shocked patrons of the elevator looked at the woman who had fallen into their midst. She raised the revolver.
“Stop this fucking elevator. Now.”
She had never seen someone move as quickly as the green-skinned man who slammed the stop button. The elevator came to a grinding halt. An alarm sounded. Not loud, but shrill, an ear-piercing shriek. Naomi tore open the elevator doors, waving her revolver again at the occupants.
“Help me up, now!” There was a small crack, just big enough for her to wriggle through. She was boosted up, and despite the fact putting pressure on her ankle felt like shoving a dagger through her foot, she got through. She was only two floors down, and that wasn’t enough. The antipsions would be here soon.
Naomi stood up, holding her arm. She finally rolled up her sleeve to see what it was. There was a small needle in her arm, barely the size of a bee’s stinger. But there was something under her blue skin, glowing a faint red. She scratched, trying to get it off. Whatever it was, she sure as hell didn’t like it. She pulled the knife from her belt, pricking the glowing dot. The glowing scattered, almost like a living thing scared of the blade.
They were probably nanite trackers, all things considered. No point in running, wherever she went, they would catch up. Naomi had to fight.
But if she had to fight, then goddammit she would fight on her own terms. She limped through the crowd, pushing people to the side. Every step brought a new shot of pain through her leg. But she still carried on.
“There, she’s there!” Someone behind her shouted. Her head shot around, looking to see three of the soldiers running towards her. So much for ‘on my own terms,’ she thought. The roar of a Mutilator filled the air, thick smoke billowing out from a side vent. The man with the mutilator ran at Naomi, arm raised up, ready to strike. Naomi raised her knife up instinctively, the steel smashing against the chain with a horrific crunch.
Sparks flew. Metal shards filled the air, pricking Naomi’s face and arms. The chain of the mutilator shattered, flying into the crowd. Naomi took the chance to run, dropping her knife on the ground. The people around her stared, save those tending to the poor bastard that the chain had caught full on the chest. Some of the onlookers kept their hands on their sidearms, ready to join if need be.
She rounded a corner, every step bringing a sharp report of pain up her leg. The alley she chose was small, barely enough for her to stand comfortably in. No way in hell the antipsions would come after her here.
She was, of course, wrong. One of them came through, aiming a Stinger right at her. With renewed strength, born of fear, she ran. A gunshot sounded behind her, echoing in the narrow alley. The wall in front of her exploded with a flash of light, knocking her over. Her ears rung. Her vision tunneled. Was there pain? She couldn’t tell.
Naomi scrambled around aimlessly. She tried to used her powers, but couldn’t tell what she was doing or where she was directing the effects. Terror flowed through her body. Her heart raced. Her mind couldn’t form a proper thought.
When she came to, the antipsion was struggling to move. Naomi still hurt like hell, but she could see clearly. The antipsion struggled to take a step, every movement was exaggerated and slow, like he had suddenly…become heavier.
Naomi sat up, and concentrated. Sent out a wave, trying to ascertain her surroundings. Everything felt normal, but the area around the antipsion was…denser. Heavier. She had surrounded the man in a bubble of altered gravity.
It’s difficult to move when your weight suddenly increases by three times over. It’s even harder to move, as Naomi decided to demonstrate to the antipsion, when that becomes three hundred. He let out a final, pained scream as organs burst and bone reduced to dust, the armor he wore turning into a weapon against him. Soon, he was reduced down to something that didn’t even look like it had once lived. Just a mass of white bone, red flesh, and black ceramics.
When reality returned to normal, Naomi left the alley. All who stared at her before now had their eyes firmly planted on the small stream of blood that leaked from the alley.
Naomi would find that Teluric. She had more than a few choice words for him.
“Welcome to the greatest hive of scum and villainy in this entire damned sector,” Bulat chuckled as he landed the cruiser in the spaceport of the most aptly named Avarice Quartus. “Now, let’s get fucked up, shall we?”
Naomi leapt off the ship, going through the bubble of contained air after their ship had been maglocked to the port. They landed on the surface of the spaceport, and walked inside. The artificial gravity kicked in, and Naomi’s feet planted firmly on the ground. She brushed the clinging static of the containment field off her black shirt and waited for Kate to get off the ship.
Kate’s long hair stood up in messy strands from the static electricity, levitating in the air. When she straightened her hair and let it hang down again, Naomi decided to have a little fun. Kate’s hair floated back up, suspended high in the air like some sort of creature that had taken up residence on her head. Kate flattened it down again, shrugging it off as just some electricity that hadn’t quite gone away.
Naomi made it rise up again. Kate caught on, glaring at Naomi, who responded with a smug smile. The hair came to life under her influence, moving and twisting around to form a false mustache around Kate’s mouth.
“Hey, stop!” Kate pushed the hair away, trying and failing to hide an amused smirk. “That tickled.”
Naomi blew a kiss over in her direction.
“Love you, babe,” she said. Kate linked arms with her, and they waited for the captain to get off the ship. It always took him somewhat longer, given that he had to check every one of the countless systems that kept him alive. Make sure the musculature was charged and nothing was frayed, check that his internal organs were still all where they needed to be and none of the adapters had gotten loose. Plus, he may have decided to change out his liver, save the real one from himself. They were in port after all, and that meant that any sapient being on that vessel would probably do everything that a doctor would have a conniption over.
The spaceport was full of cheap bars and brothels, the kinds you went to if you wanted to play Rashun Roulette with STDs. Of course, these were the among the most successful, given that it was rare to see anyone there who wasn’t, for lack of a better term, occupied. Bright neon signs glared over, with every one of the major languages of the Galaxy spelling out the name of the establishments. One that caught Naomi’s eye, if only for the bizarre name, was called Hecatoncheires. Naomi tapped her auglenses to make sure that they were working properly. They were. Every language translated into the exact same word.
Naomi made a mental note to figure out what the hell it meant, but she passed by the place without even considering going in. She had been to a lot of different, seedy places before, but the ones here were enough to make her skin crawl. It wasn’t just that they were dirty, or that unsavoury things happened in them. Those, she could handle. Those, she had partaken in. It couldn’t be fully described. If asked, she would chalk it up to a sort of preternatural sense of dread, a natural side-effect of being a psion.
The space elevators were always something impressive. Massive spires, nearly a kilometer around and many, many kilometers high, extending all the way up to the spaceport. Dozens of floors that all had massive structures attached to them, from the thermoelectric generators that hung in in low orbit to the city-sized aerodocks to the arms companies who advertised their zero-g-manufactured firearms as if every other company hadn’t already taken full advantage of the benefits of space when it came to making products.
The captain plodded on behind them, the whirr of mechanical parts a familiar, if not slightly disconcerting, sound. Naomi could never place it, but even after 15 years of service, she still felt a little…unnerved by him. Maybe it was because when she joined his crew, he was still relatively human. Now, she couldn’t think of a single part of him that hadn’t been touched by machines, either completely and totally replaced, or heavily modified. He was a good man, of course, and had given a brand new life to Naomi, but that feeling still persisted. She had never told him, and suspected she never would.
“Alrigh’,” he said, crossing his arms. “I’s gotta go an’ get our stocks refilled. Damn near outta gauss shells and Silakor’s been complainin’ that ‘is nutrient bath’s feelin’ a lil’ thin. Think he’d like me to get a new sensory chip fer ‘is automaton too?”
Naomi shrugged. “It’s your money. You’ve transferred our cuts to our accounts, right?”
The captain snorted. “‘Course I have! You think I’d cheat ya or somethin’?”
Naomi rolled her eyes. “Of course not, captain, I was just asking.”
The captain shooed them away. “Go on, we didn’t stop a’ port fer ya to jus’ stand around.”
Naomi shook her head, and walked to the elevator. She let Kate pick where to go first, and the two of them descended down. They stopped somewhere about four miles above the surface, where the buzz of generators was present, but faint, and where the arms manufacturers had decided to peddle their wares.
The signs here were more muted than above. Of course, that was hardly saying much. More muted, in these circumstances, meant that the lights didn’t flicker between colours project holograms, but instead they were high contrast, white and black, blue and yellow, red and green, all reflective to the point of being glossy. TDM Arms, Personal Defense Limited, Ebonspring, every single corporation who decided to sell a weapon could be found here. A few smaller booths, local gunsmiths, existed here and there, in stalls. Naomi didn’t have any interest in the local goods. Half the time they were scams, and the other half of the time they were some poor sod’s attempt at reinventing the wheel.
Naomi nudged Kate. “Hey, so…do you need to get more stingers?” Kate shrugged.
“Uh…I used…three mags in the mission to Tel-kalar, uh…two during that suppression we were a part of…and another four…yeah, I need to get a lot more. Ol’ girl’s nearly empty. Ebonspring normally carries that kinda stuff, right?”
Naomi nodded. “Yeah, Ebonspring has a lotta stuff.”
Ebonspring’s store itself was massive, at least a few acres. Robots, luckily not sentient ones, and customers interacted, exchanging weaponry ranging from the smallest palm pistol to artillery pieces you could mount on your arm. Kate went off to the back, where the larger stuff was. They even had a full gauss weapon on display, nearly fifteen meters long, shells proudly displayed alongside it. Each one was taller than Naomi.
Something, or rather, someone, picked up on her radar. An extrasensory thing that felt most akin to knowing someone is behind you, eyes fixed on your back. It got stronger as Naomi got closer, until she found some Teluric talking to a robot. A psion, she could tell. He was talking to the robot, trying to convince it to give him a lower price. The stream of consciousness, the manipulation of reality, it was more obvious than a shotgun going off beside one’s ear. Naomi just tapped him on shoulder, or rather what was most akin to a shoulder for a Teluric.
He turned around, beady eyes (all eight of them) staring up at Naomi intensely. The recognition between two psions was almost never verbal, but they both knew. A three fingered hand rubbed the thick, wrinkled jowl, carefully considering their words.
“You do know we can’t influence machines, right?” Naomi asked.
The Teluric closed four of its eyes, in what Naomi assumed to be an attempt at squinting.
“Is that so…?”
“Yes.” Naomi was blunt. “And don’t you go trying it on organics, either. That kind of shit’ll get you hung upside-down and used as target practice. Trust me, it happens.”
The Teluric shifted uncomfortably, and finally relented, skulking away as best it could. He didn’t do a very good job, after all, it’s rather hard to sneak away when your method of locomotion is scrunching up like an inchworm.
A few minutes later, as she was examining the bolt of a reproduction of some extremely old gun, made all the way back on Terra in the 20th century, she heard people coming down the aisle, stomping. They were either very large, or wearing something very heavy. Naomi turned around.
They were both. Various species, wearing heavy dragonscale armor. Overlapping plates of metal concealed their bodies. Their faces were obscured by darkened visors, and each of them held in their hands a weapon. The Teluric was behind them, trying to conceal themselves behind a rack of shotguns.
“You have been accused of breaking the Psion Code that exists on this world. You are charged with manipulation of others through psionic powers, illegal abuse of psionic powers for personal gain. Come with us.” Their tone made it absolutely clear that it was not a request. One of them tapped at the teeth on their Mutilators’ chain, as if taunting Naomi with her fate if she went.
Naomi, instead, decided to run.
© 2017 JARED J. FLEMING ALL RIGHTS RESERVED