Title: Opened Up
Fandom: Psychonauts: A child acrobat named Raz runs away from the circus and sneaks into a summer camp for psychics. There he discovers a plot in motion to take over the world, and must try to stop this by going into the minds of those around him. Including a giant hulking monstrous lungfish named Linda. I do not own it!
Taunt: My fandom has the brain of a little girl. In its lab. Honest.
The dawn of the Psychic Era had brought an entirely new school of thought and study into existence: namely, those who observed and attempted to document and explain psychic phenomenon in scientific terms. It was, initially, a very rudimentary field, and difficult to work within. After all, how does one put a formula to a person's ability to set objects on fire with a glance? How can a scientist write an equation for a person's talent for floating from a bubble of pure psychic energy?
But the psychic community, overjoyed at finally being recognized and utilized for their true abilities, rallied alongside the scientific community, and many, many breakthroughs were made as to the how's and whys of psychic powers.
One of the most important discoveries made was a surprisingly simple one: the vast majority of people did, in fact, have the capacity for psychic powers; if anything, it was odd for a person not to have the conduits for such powers. Those conduits, the paths through which these powers traveled and were directed, came to be known as channels.
But while nearly everyone had them, the channels actually opened in a startlingly small number of people. Levels of ability ranged from having enough pyrokinesis that a person would never again need to make use of matches to being full-blown psychic with all the major classifications of ability—for they had realized that they could classify psychic powers, something that made the scientific community very happy. They gave them simple names, like levitation and shield.
Another thing noticed upon careful observation was that there seemed to be a cut-off age for the display of such abilities. Most people who had psychic powers emerge experienced them at a young age. Studies suggested that the average age for manifestation was around eight or nine years old, and rarely after the age of thirteen. Sex seemed to have very little bearing on it: the statistics were fairly similar for both male and female children.
The Age Rule, as it came to be informally called, was more of a guideline than a hard and fast rule, though, as there had been exceptions—some of them fairly notorious. A man, in his early twenties, had made national headlines after being killed when he lost his temper during an argument and unleashed a surprisingly strong pyrokinetic ability. Three others had died in the resulting inferno, as well as the building burning to the ground.
And there were others whose abilities awoke late, for any number of reasons.
Some more painful than others…
She had fallen asleep on the couch again.
Psychonaut Agent Sasha Nein sighed and shook his head. He was one of those who liked things in their place, and the couch…well, it was certainly not her place. This was the fifth night she had been in the hostel, and the fifth night he had emerged from his lab to find her curled up there. He had heard the footsteps earlier, soft and slow outside. She had probably been wandering before finally losing the battle for consciousness and dozing off there.
But regardless, he couldn't bring himself to even be annoyed. If the scattered bits of memory they had been able to extract from her mind were telling the complete story, the poor woman did not deserve any scorn for anything she might do. Particularly something as simple as being unable to fall asleep. It was all very sad. And she was a pretty girl, certainly not one who should be subject to that kind of pain.
It had been a coincidence that had placed him in the area when it had happened. Sasha did not believe in fate or luck; he was a man of science. Thus, he called it coincidence. He had been passing through, heading to the hostel for a few days of rest (and research—a mere three years as an agent, and he was already known for having labs all over the place) before he was to be sent out again on assignment.
But truth be told, he had to wonder if his close proximity (perhaps half a mile or so away from the scene) was even necessary. The scream that had sent him hurrying to that place was mental as well as physical, enough to make any psychic shiver down to their bones.
Sorting out the scene and finding the source of the psychic disturbance had taken a bit of time. There had been law enforcement officials there, struggling to put out a fire in what appeared to be some sort of hospital or orphanage. His status as a Psychonaut was more than enough to get him clearance, but he had opted to hang back. Sooner or later, things would come to those who waited, and Sasha was nothing if not patient.
Sadly, the information that came to him was unpleasant: it was an orphanage, and it seemed that most of the people inside had perished in the blaze, including numerous children and staff. A few were being rushed to the hospital, but the casualties far outnumbered the survivors. The building was old, and the fire had spread quickly.
…was this the source of the scream? Had one of those children been a blossoming psychic? No, that did not seem to be the case. It only took a bit of basic math and comparisons of times to deduce that it was unlikely. And there was still a thin thread of something hanging in the air, touching gently at the back of Sasha's mind. It indicated a psychic, and a powerful one at that…but without control.
He did not have to follow the thread very far, though, before he heard a commotion and saw the paramedics rushing a woman towards an ambulance. They had found her on the ground under a tree near the burned-out building; she was wearing a uniform that suggested she had worked there. There were no visible injuries and her clothing was intact, but they were opting for safety and rushing her for medical assistance. She was unconscious…
And there was no mistaking it. She was the source of that scream.
Sasha needed no further evidence than that, though he made a mental note to contact Agent Crueller as soon as possible for assistance on the matter. He stepped in by his authority as a Psychonaut and took the girl into his custody. After she was found to be in perfect health, she was brought to the hostel and into the care of the Psychonauts.
There were only a couple of other agents in residence there, all of them between missions, but the girl's situation caught their attention and their sympathy, and they took great care in their work as they worked their way into her mind to find answers. She regained consciousness one time during their probing, only long enough to ask where she was before her eyes closed once again.
Her name was Milla. Milla Vodello. She was young, barely past her twentieth birthday. As her uniform had indicated, she had been a nurse in the orphanage that had burned down. She had left the building to go run errands, and returned to find the building in flames. She had summoned help, but it was too late, and she had been left to stand there helplessly and watch as the children (her children, as she thought of them) perished.
…and that was where her case took a turn for the unique.
As was the case with so many, Milla had the channels for psychic powers. But as near as they could tell, she had not actually been consciously psychic. But it seemed that Milla Vodello had a very slight capacity for hearing thoughts. It was nothing that she would have ever been able to use, but it was enough that she would know if, say, a child became ill during the night.
It was that capacity that had nearly destroyed her.
She had heard the children's screams, pressing against her mind and clouding her psyche. She hadn't even known where the voices were coming from; she had only known that she could hear her children screaming in pain as they perished so horribly. And she had tried to shut it out. The resulting struggle within her mind had been devastating, and the result…
In a normal case, the psychic channels would have opened up on their own over time. The symptoms of psychic powers would have gradually manifested and become evident. The whole thing would have been relatively painless, although it could be a bit frightening.
In Milla's case, the channels had been torn open by the outside force of the children's screams, and the inside force of her attempts to block those screams. Her psyche was so cracked and fractured that it was a wonder that it had not fallen apart completely; none of the agents examining her had ever seen a human subconscious in such a state. All of the conduits in her mind had been ripped open to some degree, which meant that she would have the capacity to be a Psychonaut. She would be very powerful if she was trained.
…no. Not if.
There was no possible way for her to function without knowing how to control her newfound powers.
She had finally regained consciousness—and that had been an entirely new problem, as her comatose state was almost entirely self-imposed. They had nearly had to force her out of her own mind and back to the waking world. She had asked precious few questions, betraying an accent of possible European descent, and she kept to herself, avoiding the others. But there was no doubting that the poor woman was in a great deal of pain.
…and now she was asleep on the couch with her head pillowed on the arm of it, wrapped up in a blanket that she had doubtlessly pulled from her bed. Arrangements were being made for her; in the meantime, she was staying at the hostel.
Sasha recalled Ford's words upon hearing of the situation: "Give her time, Nein. That poor girl's been through a lot. If you push too hard too soon, you'll lose her. In more ways than one." He respected Agent Crueller, and knew all too well that the man's common sense was absolutely right.
After a moment of thought, Sasha made his way to the hostel's kitchen. It was nothing big or fancy, but it was enough for agents who were passing through between assignments and missions. Few stayed for any great length of time; he was proving to be an exception for the moment, given his proximity to Miss Vodello's situation. His assignments had been put on hold until things could be sorted out.
A moment later, he returned. If his senses were right, then she was having a nightmare. Perhaps she would want to talk. Or perhaps…he had a thought. But she needed to wake up first.
Her eyes snapped open at the first nudge, proving his hypothesis. She looked a bit dazed for a moment before she seemed to really notice him…and the hot tea he was offering. She accepted the cup with a mumble that was probably a 'thank you' and took a sip.
Sasha took a seat and sank back against the couch cushions; they seemed far more comfortable than they really should have. It was only then that he realized he was quite tired himself.
"Am I in the way?" she asked quietly.
"No, no," he sighed. "Are you having nightmares?" He already knew the answer.
She nodded. "I…still hear them," she murmured, a slight roll to the R again betraying her accent. "I can't do anything to help. And my head hurts…" She fell silent, taking another sip of the tea.
He was beginning to realize why they were keeping him with her for now. She had said more to him in the last few minutes of conversation that she had since she had woken up. It meant that he was familiar to her now, and that provided at least some degree of safety and comfort.
"Well, your psychic abilities were practically blasted open," he said matter-of-factly. "It's like any injury. Healing will take time." He paused; since the door was open, he pressed on a bit. "You are going to need training now, to learn to control those abilities. And the Psychonauts are interested in you."
"I don't want it," she said. Her gaze was focused firmly on the floor.
Somehow, he had expected an answer along those lines, and was ready for it. "If you do not learn to control them, you could very well be destroyed by them." He could sense that she was about to declare that she didn't care, so he quickly added, "And it could put others around you in danger as well."
She was silent.
Sasha studied her for a moment. She looked exhausted, and far too tired to even consider any sort of training. Her emotions were still raw and uncontrolled. But while he couldn't bring the children…her children back, and he couldn't undo the tragedy, perhaps… "I have a thought," he said.
Now she glanced at him. "What is it?"
"It's something that might help you. At the very least, it could help you get some rest at night."
Milla closed her eyes. "That…would be nice."
So reserved, unenthusiastic. The memories he had seen in her mind told him that this wasn't her true self. She was so much more vivacious and happy than she seemed now, so bogged down by the events of the last few days. Sasha turned to face her, twisting carefully to sit sideways on the couch. "Then let's have your first lesson in psychic control," he said.
There was a pause as she finished off the tea. Then she turned to face him, the blanket still wrapped around her. Again, Sasha had to acknowledge that she was a very pretty girl. "What is this lesson?"
In spite of everything, he felt himself smile ever so slightly. "I will teach you to control your nightmares."
Milla looked down for a moment. "I can't forget them. My darlings…" Her voice cracked.
"No one would ever ask you to," he said.
Her next words surprised him; it seemed that Miss Vodello was full of surprises. "If I learn to use these powers that you say I have, and become a Psychonaut like you say…will I be able to help people?"
"I…yes, I imagine you will."
She looked away, glancing to the side. "Then…I will learn. For them."
It took him a moment to actually understand, and read between the lines to see what she was really getting at: If I learn to do this now, and I use those powers to help people, perhaps someday I can atone for those I could not save.
It wasn't exactly how he had imagined her agreeing to be trained, and he hadn't been entirely sure that she would want to be a Psychonaut. But…well, the entire situation had seemed a bit hopeless to start with. Not quite so much now, with those words.
"All right," she said softly, again with that soft purr of a rolled R. "Teach me."
Sasha nodded, and held up his hands with his palms towards her. She seemed to realize what he wanted, and raised her own hands to carefully touch her palms to his. It was a very rudimentary way of teaching these skills; a Psi-Portal would have been far more effective. But his Psi-Portal was sitting on a table in his lab, and he certainly was not about to interrupt this dialogue to go retrieve it.
Before he could actually begin, though, Milla popped up with one more question: "Will I be powerful?"
He remembered how the channels had looked, how far they had been opened, and he said, "Yes. And I think you will be a very powerful Levitator…Agent Vodello." She wouldn't be an agent for a while yet. It was a very silly thing to say, and he felt very silly saying it…but he saw the faintest ghost of a smile flicker across her face.
Maybe being silly once in a while wasn't such a bad thing.
PS. You have no idea how hard it was to decide on a single taunt for this. Alternates included: "My fandom's milk is delicious," "My fandom goes Godzilla on talking fish," and "My fandom was built in the abandoned Indian insane asylum on top of the caveman burial ground." In the end, I had to go with the one line that consistently makes my best friend and I crack up.
…and leave it to me to take something as chipper and happy as Psychonauts and write angst about it. Oh well. Poor Milla, though. That vault in her mind was sad D: Thanks for reading, all! Much love!