(With apologies to those who actually understand German beyond what they recall from high school.)
In the very least, summer camp provided some sort of quiet sanctuary. Being positioned up at Whispering Rock, surrounded by the quote-unquote "peaceful" sounds of nature, meant that there was at least a ten mile buffer between him and the rest of humanity – if one could qualify a small town of fifty as "humanity". That was also the reason the counselors and one of the Crullers were well-versed in first aid, and the unfortunately frequent scraps with bears (not mauling frequent but smacked around by a telekinetic claw frequent) had to be dealt with right then and there. Actual medical help was a good fifty miles away at least.
Yeah, being in the boonies may not have been good for those in dire need of a doctor, but the isolation was good for the campers when it came to why they were there in the first place: training their abilities. And he would gladly learn first aid in a trade-off for lab space, test subjects, and quality "alone" time.
The joke was on him, as being alone always meant there was somebody nearby. That was simply how camp worked. There was about a week between when he got there and when the campers arrived, and between the move-ins and introductions and opening day speeches – not to mention the, you know, teachings - that week could not last long enough.
Sasha Nein found himself at the end of another all-nighter, a skill that seemed a specialty that he was not too happy with. But he had managed to land a deal on the newest model of brian tumblers, so putting it together was simply a must. Ten hours and one broken coffee mug later, the psychic decided to avoid cleaning more ceramics from his lab and opted to get some...what was it..."fresh air".
With the campers' arrival still two days away, leaving by means of the GPC and not caring who saw him was a viable option. Sasha popped open the hatch atop the ladder and levitated himself up and out, resting momentarily to root around his pockets for a cigarette. ...Nope. Clean out. Seemed like a run into town was in order for that day.
Sunrise over Whispering Rock was probably considered some sort of pleasant sight, but for right now, the light only served to remind Sasha why sunglasses were a good accessory no matter what time of day (his prescription not withstanding). It also reminded him why people slept, and why he wasn't too fond of his all-nighter abilities: he could coast through the night, but once exposed to the day, his body began to wither and crumple.
That was nothing a trip to the lodge couldn't fix. Devoid of his cigarettes, it was time to fuel his next addiction, coffee. That one at least wasn't meant with grousing from his co-workers, who liked to rib him every so often on his health. Built like a beanpole, master of insomnia, and wielder of nicotine lungs? "You're the perfect agent, Nein" they would deadpan.
There was the long way and the short way to the lodge; Sasha chose the obvious answer as he skimmed over the top of the log that crossed the river and floated up the hill, ducking his head underneath the archway covered in peeling paint. Levitation was not his strongest suit, and he was only utilizing it to practice and get his partner off his back.
That was completely, totally, and utterly why. It was just to get her to stop prodding him about it, and maybe wanting to prove himself. There was no way he was going to impress her – her, the best levitator the Psychonauts had. His insistence that the feat no longer included visible psynergy did not do the trick.
The sound of chattering voices from the lodge should've tipped Sasha off, and should've told him to turn right around. But with his mind in a haze, he only seemed to passively notice. The word "company" registered in his head, and that sent him off on a thought train: Why anyone would trek out to the camp? He once speculated it was purely to annoy him, and then the previously mentioned levitator had told him to "check his ego".
"Ah! Sasha darling, good morning."
It was like the blinding sunlight carried to the inside, except it went from natural to tacky artificial. Grouped around a table near the grill was not only his partner, the mental minx Milla Vodello, but five other agents he was able to quickly recall to memory due to their habit of leaving certain...impressions.
"Good morning," Sasha replied stoically, directing the greeting to Milla, and only Milla. The less contact with the others, the better.
"Guten Morgen, Herr Nein!" one of the agents shouted enthusiastically, lifting a travel thermos to the air. "Wie geht es dir?"
Sasha ground his feet to a halt and etched the frown deeper into his face. He fully understood his current attitude was more blamed on his lack of sleep rather than the agents' actual presence, and truth be told, he always felt just a smidge of happiness at someone speaking his native language, but today he was just not having it.
"Is there a reason for your party's visit?" he asked, his movement returning so as to avoid being in the spotlight.
"Roadtrip," another of the agents replied, scooping a particularly long bang behind her ear. "We're due in San Antonio tonight. Got called last night after finishing up a case in Butte."
"We call it Butte, not Butt, Montana..." a third agent chimed, causing his comrades to snicker. Sasha rolled his eyes, though glad his back was currently facing the group.
"And this was on the way," a fourth agent continued. "A friendly place? Free food?" He listed the items with gusto, stabbing a sausage patty on the last word. "It was an excellent idea."
Yes, he quite indeed remembered this cluster of agents. They were (obviously) below him in rank but known quite well in the region, as they operated on what they called "the five man band principle". At least he and Milla kept it simple – partners, two people, opposite in their ways, complementing each other in skills and weaknesses. Them? Too intricate, too many parts, too many points of failure for his liking. But, they did their jobs and got their work done with surprising efficiency, given their less-than-serious personages.
Milla, of course, was having a grandiose time chatting to the group. She was graced with "social skills" and he wasn't, as evidenced by his sipping coffee while leaning against the grill counter. He could hear her lecturing him now.
'Sasha darling, why don't you loosen up and chat a little?' she would chide. 'Because I am wasting time and air with these people,' he would answer. Then she'd go 'You need to give to get. A dance is only fun if another dances along.'
Always with the dance analogies.
'You have my voice pitched much too low, darling,' her very-real voice suddenly invaded into his thoughts. Sasha scowled into his coffee.
Private place, Milla.
'I'm not so sure; the lock was too easy to pick for you to want to be alone.'
If there was a problem to having a partner, it was that as time wore on and their psyches got more in sync, the easier it was for her to sneak into his mind – and, admittedly, him into hers – and go unnoticed. Every so often, astral-Milla would find a little switch in his cube and turn up another embarrassing thought or memory or tangled mess of a cobweb and she would giggle, and by that point all hope was lost and she'd have another thing to tease him about. This month's go-around was the recollection of a stray cat he had named Mondschein.
It was unfortunate that there was literally nothing he could turn up to exact revenge. Everything he could say crossed the line of human decency – and he knew it all anyway.
'Were you up all night again?'
He took another sip of coffee before answering. Perhaps.
Milla kept the pleasant smile on her face as the group of agents cracked a quick series of jokes. 'Ack! You can't be doing that to yourself. You'll wither to a husk! Show over, baby!'
You don't have to worry, Agent Vodello. There, the surname attack. That tended to shut things down. He peered over the rim of his mug, only to see her continuing to smile and join in the group's conversings.
Yes, good, he was sa-
'I have to worry about you, darling, you don't worry about yourself. It's a good thing I'm your partner, no?'
He lifted the mug to hide his frown. There was something about being miffed at Milla that he didn't like her to see. I believe you can save the worry for when it is actually required. There is little need to concern yourself with my well-being while we're here.
Then he paused, and he let his thoughts run – the other thoughts, the stream that nobody but himself could get to, not even if somebody else were to try. They were just too fast, too free-flowing, too deeply rooted to be heard by anyone but himself. And this was not exclusive to him, or an agent, or a psychic in general – it was just a human thing.
Sasha let the thoughts run, and in the midst of it all, he felt that perhaps his (mental) words were a bit harsh. Milla took everything in stride, and had very clearly been able to deal with him for several years now. But as time wore on, the differences between the two became abundantly clear, and it was almost to the point where he could see the traits in her that he not only lacked, but envied. That previously mentioned "social grace"? Definitely one of them. He wasn't horrific with social functions, but even Oleander was leagues better than him. That stung a bit.
"Agent Vodello," he said aloud, catching the entire crowd's attention. "I am in need of cigarettes. Would you care to join me on a trip into town?"
"Oh darling, I wish you would take that as a sign to stop." Milla waggled her finger, tsking. "You will never be able to keep with the grove at this rate."
He was able to sum up the energy and emotion to shrug. "We all have our vices."
"Tor!" the first agent of the group commended, again lifting her travel thermos. "Ich wolle mehr Kaffee." She sipped from the thermos before revealing an elaborated translation: "I'm going to nab more coffee before we leave." Then she made eye contact with Sasha and grinned thinly. "Unsitte, aye Herr Nein?"
The words just made him frown again, but this time directly to the agent's face. But nothing phased her – nothing phased any of the five, and that was part of their reputation; they were just too damn happy – and she chuckled, returning her sight to her tray now devoid of food.
"Leaving? So soon?" Milla finally changed her expression to one of...slight sadness? Even when she was upset she wasn't frowning, just sort of smiling less. "It's been so nice to see you again, and let me tell you, it is always fabulous to get visitors out here." She shook her head, sighing. "I love the children darlings, you know I do, and I would not give up this job for the world, but it can be so lonely out here!"
"Aw, but c'mon." The second agent nudged Milla's knee, as it was the closest thing to her. "You have Nein and Oleander – that's worth something, right?"
"And you have..." The third agent dropped his voice to a whisper, "Cruller's still around, isn't he?"
"You guys realize who you just suggested, right?" The up-until-then quiet fifth agent had his hand raised halfway in the air. "You're talking about Cruller, Oleander, and N – and yeah."
Sasha stopped mid-gulp of his coffee. Yeah, these agents where quite on the annoying side, and he was suddenly remembering very specific details of why. They were happy and full of energy, but not the Milla-kind, which was warm and inviting. It was the...the their kind, the kind of enthusiasm that made others feel left out, like they weren't in on the joke.
Milla, however, just laughed. "Ford is still around, no need to be worried. And you know - 'One means somebody's lonely, company means there are two. Three means a crowd, four means more than a few. Five means to take a quick little break and get back to work when we're through'. You ever hear that song, darling?"
"Oooh, ooh!" The first agent drummed her hands on the table excitedly. "Got it! It's in the car! Putting it on as the first song of post-breakfast!" The rest groaned.
"Company," Milla continued, "it's so wonderful. It's the song you hear on the radio that fills you up and gets you grooving – and it's sad when it's over because you can't remember the name of the tune."
The group nodded, a tinge of sadness settling over them. Sasha, meanwhile, busied himself with procuring another cup of coffee, telekinetically tugging at the coffee pot set up on the grill counter for the week before camp.
Social graces. That was something that could be worked on right now. Pot in psychic-hand – after filling his own, of course – the German psychic turned to the group and raised it slightly. "Coffee?"
If scenes could be labeled with arbitrary emotions, this one would've been 'stunned silence'. Even Milla raised her eyebrows, though her shaking torso indicated she was silently giggling. Sasha felt a rush of blood color his face of embarrassment (so ha! he wasn't a robot, take that...cadets who had said such things). And then, he felt it; he felt astral-Milla's nimble lithe fingers clawing at his door, but the lock had been refitted with tighter enforcements and he wasn't going to let her sit in on his little tumble into the ever-continual saga of "Nein's awkwardness".
"Um...yeah sure, I'd like more coffee." The first agent had her thermos lifted in the air, but the response seemed rather mechanical in nature – perhaps 'terrified' was the proper word to describe it. Sasha levitated the pot over to her and carefully tilted it to pour into the thermos. The fifth agent then also raised his hand, and Sasha repeated the action...though he was awfully tempted to let it overflow to get back at the punk's earlier remark.
"Thanks," the fifth mumbled, while the first grinned exuberantly and motored out, "Danke fur den Kaffee, Herr Nein. Viel geschätzt." She tapped the thermos to her goggle-covered forehead and smirked, to which he scoffed and set the pot back in its spot. He didn't need this patronizing act.
"Welp...that was good, but we should probably get going." The fourth agent glanced around the table, the rest of his cohorts nodding. The five then clambered up from their spots, speaking a unified message of thanks to Milla for giving them food. She smiled widely.
"Anytime, darlings. You should visit when the children are here, don't you think so Sasha?"
"That would probably give them the wrong impression," he replied, barely thinking of the response. So much for social grace.
"What, that agents oftentimes work in groups of five?" The third agent seemed to roll with the punch, but the second scowled and turned her attention to Milla.
"That'd be fun, we're just usually busy," she said through clenched teeth. "A-and isn't it usually a budget thing? HQ doesn't want to have to pay for more agents than they have to and what-not."
"That explains Oleander," cracked the first, everyone but the second snickering.
"Now now, Morry is very good at what he does." Milla took on a air of motherly disappointment, once again wagging her finger. "They wouldn't put anyone here who didn't need to be here. The children are the future, after all – they need teachers of the highest quality."
No words were spoken, but after a brief silence, the five started laughing to themselves.
They're talking about me.
'Darling, what did I say about checking your ego?'
Agent Vodello, they have been making jokes at my expense while I've been here, they are CLEARLY -
'Sasha, sweetie, please. This is how they are, let them enjoy themselves.'
Another silence. The five agents stiffened before letting out a unified sigh and turning to face the German agent. He himself froze when they lowered their heads.
"Sorry Agent Sasha Nein," they said in unison. Lifting their heads up, they then threw up their hands in salute. "We shouldn't mock a superior."
They held the pose for a lingering moment before the first mumbled, "But then again, there is Oleander..."
And then the unified moment of respect was gone, given way to more immature snickering.
Sasha didn't quite feel like bidding the group adieu, but Milla did, and because of that, he was dragged to the parking lot to see "the five man band" off. Their mode of transport was a VW bus, scratched and dinged up like one would expect someone of the group's ages to drive. The first agent hopped in the driver's seat, the second taking passenger, while the other three opened the side to reveal a mess of blankets and pillows within.
"Agency likes to penny-pinch, after all," explained the third to Milla's rather concerned look. "The trade-off for the five of us being a group is no hotels."
"How do you...No. Nevermind." Sasha didn't feel like asking how they bathed. They weren't reeking noxious odor, and that was all that mattered. ...Blegh.
"I ah...just...concerned for your safety, darlings," Milla said, peeking around inside the van. "No seats? No seatbelts?"
"Hey, we are Psychonauts," the fourth insisted. "We have plenty of ways to protect us and besides – Agent Vodello, aren't you a levitator? The levitator?" He smirked, smugness breaching his expression. "Sounds a touch dangerous."
That somehow made the bile rise in Sasha's throat. He glared at the agent, though ultimately knew it didn't matter if no one was looking at him. And once he realized the futileness and ultimate in-consequence of the situation, the emotion was gone. Something slapped him in the brain and the anger subsided.
Milla, though, handled the remark with her usual grace. "I'm a professional, you know." She was suddenly sitting, her legs crossed and hovering, her arms spread to invite critique. "Of course it is not without its hazards -"
"But you would not know her as 'the levitator' if she wasn't the definitive article of such."
The comment surprised everyone, but most of it, it surprised its speaker. It took Sasha a moment to realize that yes, he had said those words, that he had come to Milla's defense – Milla, who liked to show off but not intentionally, it was just because that was what she did. He wasn't sure why, just that it felt like the...right thing to do.
"There's more dangerous stuff here anyway," the first agent cut in, tapping the steering wheel. "You know of the bears, right?"
"The telekinetic ones?!" the fifth scrambled out, leaping up to his knees and clinging to the back of the passenger seat. "Those are real?!"
"Quite," Sasha answered. "Most incidents that occur here and not due to flagrant mis-use of powers, but telekinetic mauling from the bears."
"Man, if only Whispering Rock had been a camp when we were recruits..."
"You want to get mauled by a telekinetic bear?"
"Well I mean, it'd make for a good story, right?"
The five once again began their banter, leaving the two higher agents out of the joke. Milla dropped to her feet and shook her head, still smiling, while Sasha patted his pockets and once again recalled his need for cigarettes. He sighed.
"Perhaps you should be leaving," he said aloud, lightly kicking the side of the van. "San Antonio is a distance."
"- the blender made a mess of things. Ah – yeah, totes, we should." The first agent started up the van, the second closed her door, and the fourth and fifth clambered in the back, the third sliding it shut. "Auf Wiedersehen Herr Nein, Frau Vodello."
And they were off.
"...I need more coffee," Sasha mumbled, feeling his energy drop as the van skidded away. Milla giggled, floating backwards (she was so seamless in her movements, what the heck) to face him as he began his trek back to the lodge.
"That was very kind of you," she said. He hunched his shoulders to avoid frowning.
"Very trying of my patience, Agent Vodello."
"But they were a lovely break-up of the usual sameness of this camp, don't you think so?"
"Are the coffee grounds behind the counter?" Sasha interjected, deciding a topic change was in order. "Cruller didn't hide them again, I hope."
"Yes darling, they are where they're supposed to be."
Well, that was one vice – one Unsitte – taken care of. His second would be fulfilled later, though perhaps his craving for it would be dulled by the first. Regardless, he would be procuring the second in due time, maybe even with help from his third -
Wait, what? Third vice? Was ist mein dritter Unsitte? Kaffee, Zigaretten, das ist es. Eins, zwei, zwei Unsitte. Nicht drei.
"Sasha darling, are you alright?"
He looked up at the voice, its owner standing in the doorway of the lodge, a mix between confusion, worry, and...amusement? on her face.
"Yes," he answered curtly, stopping the blood rushing to his face. "I just need some more coffee."