Elder Irin and Elder Munker had no idea that they were about to die a rather gruesome death. The two doomed men were having a conversation in Elder Irin’s office in the west wing of the reproduction section at Pettemway Hospital when Elder Munker made the fatal error that would eventually cost both men their lives.
We don’t want another one like him walking around. Elder Munker projected the words to Elder Irin’s mind as he leaned back in the swivel chair in front of Elder Irin’s desk. Chollar has been nothing but trouble.
Usually, the Elders avoided even thinking the name Chollar out of fear of catching the fearsome telepath’s attention.
Even hundreds of miles away, Chollar was capable of hearing his name being mentioned. When and if that happened, he sometimes reached out mentally and linked his mind to those conversing telepathically about him.
If they were lucky, all Chollar did was listen in, eavesdrop a little.
Elder Irin’s and Elder Munker’s luck would run out soon, however. Neither male seemed to notice Munker’s careless blunder while their telepathic conversation continued.
Well, we haven’t had any other like him, so it would seem that our little solution is working, projected Elder Irin.
Yes, but not without unintended consequences, Munker added. I’ve double-checked the numbers. There has been a 40% reduction in the birthrate of Elders. If things continue at this rate, our community will be left in the hands of barely functional Cerebrals in less than two generations.
Elder Munker wasn’t aware of the moment when Chollar’s consciousness entered his mind and started sifting through his memories, curious to discover the nature of this solution the men spoke about. Munker didn’t find it all suspicious that his thoughts suddenly drifted back to the previous afternoon when he’d assisted Elder Irin in aborting several fetuses, all of which had been developing at alarming rates within their synthetic wombs.
Elder Munker felt a sudden wetness trickle out of his left nostril. He reached for a tissue just as Irin mentally informed him that his nose was bleeding. Munker dabbed at his upper lip with the tissue before holding it out and verifying for himself that his nose was indeed bleeding.
Neither male thought it too terribly odd. Noses did that sometimes.
Until a stream of red began to trickle from Irin’s nose, as well.
Munker’s eyes went wide. It’s him! He’s heard us!
Suddenly, bright-hot pain burst behind Munker’s eyes, and he fell to his hands and knees, clipping his chin on Irin’s desk in the process.
Irin tried to reach out with his mind to their colleagues just a few feet away in the hallway beyond his office door. However, he couldn’t project his thoughts. It was as if a wall had been thrown up around his mind. Intending to rush out into the hallway and get help, he pushed himself out of his chair. He was not able to take even one step. He wobbled for a moment before collapsing back into his seat. Then pain erupted in his head as if someone had inserted a hot knife into his brain.
Irin opened his mouth and screamed, hoping the sound would alert the Elders within earshot that something very dire was taking place within his office. Unfortunately, his scream was little more than a choked whimper given how long it’d been since he’d actually engaged his vocal cords.
Irin sat frozen in agony, his usually silent world now filled with Munker’s pathetic moaning and his own sobs.
Jandy was curled into a ball, stiff, taking shallow breaths.
Locked inside a lifepod so small she couldn’t extend her legs, the deep ache in her hips throbbed. However, she was unable to gain relief due to the lack of space. In addition to the pain, a slow churn of nausea made it difficult to think. The metal grates she lay on kept her cool but did little to ward off the illness.
Jandy had never been this sick before.
She was on a one-way trip to the male who’d bought her. A life of slavery would have been terrifying if she were healthy. But there was no reason to believe she would live long with the poisoned blood in her stomach.
For no reason at all, she flashed on a memory of Jaccy, the male who’d poisoned her. He had been angry that Fynbar had scared off the other buyers so he could pay half the price. In a fit of revenge, Jaccy had cut his hand and fed Jandy his blood.
Then, the bastard had locked her in the miniature traveling pod.
Turning her mind from the memory, Jandy concentrated on the grates and the pod’s simplistic design.
Another memory flashed in her thoughts, this one of her helping Sasha escape the planet.
Jandy hoped that Sasha was okay. Sasha was her best friend. Actually, she was Jandy’s only friend, and she missed the stubborn Terran desperately. Being inside the lifepod, it was impossible to tell time. Needing to see her friend’s face, Jandy slipped out of her conscious mind and her physical body and into her second consciousness. Her mind palace.
As she withdrew, pain lingered in her joints, but the nausea disappeared.
Jandy floated inside her palace where a front door would be. As her body solidified, she grounded herself in the dream living room.
The walls were grey, and a large photo hung on the wall: a picture of the ship Sasha had escaped on.
Immediately to her left was a light grey couch with yellow accent pillows. In front of that was a black wood coffee table with a crystal vase and flowers.
Hanging down from the vaulted ceiling were long, metal poles with thousands of little teardrop lights.
The lights were varied sizes and emitted different shades of illumination.
Leaving the living room, Jandy took the stairs to the second floor. There, she entered a large open-plan bedroom. There was no wall on the far side of the space, it remained open to offer a view into the living room.
The bed was large enough to fit three. The blankets were black, the pillows a dark grey.
Hanging out in the corner, giving off a gentle, yellow glow, were the aura lights of the three people she valued most in life: her mother, her best friend Sasha, and Sasha’s mother.
She really needed to see her friend. With luck, Sasha would be asleep.
Reaching up, Jandy touched the light. Using their connection, Jandy’s body faded to vapor and slipped into the tube. On the other side, Jandy emerged in Sasha’s dreams.
Sasha was inside a small rectangular room with dark grates on the floor and a metal bed. Bars in the middle of the room separated her from the other side as if Sasha were locked in a cell.
“Why are there bars in your room? Are you in trouble?” Jandy asked.
Sasha turned and jumped off the bed. “Jandy? How did you get in here?”
Jandy knew Sasha wasn’t talking about being inside her dream, but she answered honestly nonetheless. “I missed you.”
Sasha’s expression fell. “Are you mad at me for leaving?”
“No, but I’m worried that you’re in trouble and have been thrown in a cell.”
Sasha looked back at the bars. “I’m not in trouble. These bars are to keep Sci from hurting the team.”
Sci…? Who was that? “Is he dangerous?”
Sasha sat back down and faced the bars again. “Not anymore. The doctor on board took away his abnormal abilities so he wouldn’t hurt anyone. But he shouldn’t have done that. Sci’s really nice, and he doesn’t deserve to be in a cell.”
In the corner of the room, Jandy felt something move but she didn’t see it. Whatever it was, it felt real. Like a nightmare waiting for Sasha’s weakest moment.
“Are you mad that I left?” Sasha asked again.
Jandy looked down and shook her head. “I’m not mad. I just miss you.” A part of Jandy wanted to sit down and spend as much time as she could with Sasha, but the shadow in the corner was giving off a very strong I’m-watching-you vibe.
“I hope my mom isn’t mad at me. Did she get in trouble?” Sasha asked, still focused on the other side of the room.
Jandy lied. “Nope, your mom isn’t mad either. She thinks you’re going to be the best pilot in the Federation.”
Sasha looked at her hands. “I don’t know if they will keep me. The captain said it depends on how well I fly.”
Jandy snorted. “Well then, I know you’ll get the job. You are the best pilot I know. Not that I like flying, but you’re still the best.”
Sasha’s lips curled up. “When I come back, I’m going to make you fly with me again.”
Jandy didn’t answer at first. “I don’t think you should come back. Ever. It won’t be safe for you.”
Sasha’s eyes cut to Jandy. “I’m coming back.”
Standing, Sasha was a few inches taller. In her dreams, she thought she was a lot taller. “I said, I’m coming back.”
Before Jandy could respond, the shadow in the corner shot out through the bars and directly at her. It felt like two hands pushed her back. But they didn’t knock her down, the shadow thrust her out of Sasha’s dreams.
Inside her mind palace, Jandy was lying on her back, spread out and stunned.
What the hell just happened? Did she just get kicked out of Sasha’s mind?
That had never happened before.
Jandy rolled to her side and pushed off the ground. Confused at what had happened, she walked down the stairs, replaying the scene from Sasha’s mind in her head.
“How do you have a house inside your mind? What is this place?”
Jandy jerked to the side, shocked to see a strikingly handsome male sitting on her couch. With grey skin, faded black clothes, and dark hair, she wondered if the male might have been an unconscious addition to her mind palace.
“Who are you?” At the same time, she wondered if her subconscious was trying to tell her something important. A manifestation of her inner health.
“My name is Chollar, the Examiner.” He lifted his chin, and she felt the devastation of his yellow eyes. If he was a subconscious apparition, she didn’t need to hear his message, she could tell by his predatory manner that she was in danger.
Cold and calculating eyes narrowed in her direction.
Cautiously, she asked, “What are you doing in here?”
Chollar, her apparition, lifted both arms and rested them on the back of the couch. “I would tell you, but you’ve yet to explain where here is.”
“This is my home. My Silk Demon mind palace.”
He tilted his head. “Interesting title for what resembles a dream-like fantasy.”
“How did you get in here?” This time, she spoke firmly.
“I followed you.”
He’d followed her…to her mind palace? Not possible.
“You couldn’t have followed me.” Hearing herself say that, she had a sinking feeling that maybe this was what happened when Silk Demons were dying. Maybe her body was trying to subconsciously tell her that her time was almost up.
“I’m not a hallucination. I’m a Cerebral.”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“Cerebrals are a race of telepathic and telekinetic people. We live in communities with fluid harmony, every person assigned a lifelong responsibility. I am an Examiner. Meaning, I find the reasons behind things happening.”
Jandy took an extra few moments to process what he said. It was so foreign to her, it was hard to believe.
His head tilted slightly to the side, his tone saturated with contempt. “It’s really not that hard to understand, Jandy. I’m an Outworlder. You know what that means. So, process that, and let’s move on.”
Stepping back, she thought about all the reasons an Outworlder would be in her mind palace. In those few seconds, she couldn’t think of anything, and that worried her.
“What do you want?”
The stranger dropped his arms and leaned forward. “First, I want to know what these are,” he said, pointing to the teardrop lightbulbs.
“Are you talking about the shape or the different shades of illumination?”
Chollar stood and flicked one of the smaller lights, it swung hard towards a larger one. Jandy jumped to keep the delicate object from breaking.
The smaller light was connected to her previous employer, a very fragile woman who was old and dying.
“Don’t touch. Please,” she said as she grabbed the small bulb and settled it. Then she touched the larger one with the tips of her fingers to steal a few hours of sleep. The bigger light was connected to a Roth Demon in his prime.
Pointing a finger at her, Chollar commanded, “Explain what you just did.”
Explain? Didn’t she already explain when she’d confessed to being a Silk Demon? “How about this, I’ll explain what I did, and you tell me how you followed me.”
Chollar folded his arms over his chest. He was taller than she was but lacked the muscles she normally liked. His shirt looked like a long strip of fabric that had been sewn in asymmetrical angles. Now that she took a better look, he wasn’t that attractive.
“I already told you how I followed you. I’m a telepath.”
“You’re saying words, but they don’t mean anything. Explain better.”
His upper lip curled for a moment before he said, “I am a Master Elder. That means I have unlimited access to your mind, your memories, and even your body if I want. How I followed you will never make sense to you because you lack my ability.”
Had she really thought he was attractive before?
Because he was…not. Not only was he unattractive, he was also rude. Jandy put up with people like him in the real world. She wasn’t going to cower to one in her mind.
Chollar’s jaw flexed as if he too were upset.
His voice sounded controlled but still irritated. “I’m a telepath. I was searching your memories when you left your thoughts and came here. I followed the neural pathway.”
The creepy stalker was riffling through her memories and then followed her to her mind palace? And everyone thought Silk Demons were intrusive.
“Your turn. Explain what these lights are and how you use them. I know they are special, and you can pull energy from them, but I don’t know how.”
“These are my hosts,” Jandy said, tapping the large bulb again. This time, she didn’t take any sleep.
Chollar remained silent, and she could tell that he was waiting for her to continue. For some reason, his frustration made him look almost cute.
“I’m a Silk Demon. Or at least my father was. My mother is a Terran. Silk Demons can’t sleep. We don’t have the…whatever everyone else has that shuts our minds down. So, we steal sleep from our hosts.”
Chollar observed the bulbs with shrewd intensity. It was like he was trying to figure out how it all worked without having to ask another question.
While he scrutinized the length of the cables that descended past the second floor’s landing, Jandy took another look at her intruder.
Of all the fantasies she’d ever had…all the dreams she dreamed, this male was physically enchanting. Strongly cut jaw, high cheekbones, wide mouth, and unruly hair that looked desperate for a haircut.
He was breathtaking in an annoying, ugly-personality kind of way.
Chollar’s dark yellow eyes cut to her. “Your thorns, the ones in your fingertips, they give you the ability to connect with your hosts, correct? Regardless of distance?”
“How do you know about the thorns?”
Chollar raised a hand and, instantly, a series of her memories filtered in.
Remembrances of her hiding in corners and closets at night so the men her mother served couldn’t find her.
More memories of crying because she was tired but couldn’t sleep for fear that someone would find her unconscious body and do unspeakable things to it.
“Stop it. You’ve made your point. You can sift through my memories, which is how you found out about the thorns,” Jandy said, feeling embarrassment at the fact that Chollar knew more than anyone else in her life. More than even her best friend, Sasha.
Chollar flicked his fingers, and the memories stopped. “Like I said, I’m a Master Elder. I can control everything.”
Jandy opened her mouth to answer him when she realized that she didn’t know the answer to his question. Not really. Which was why Chollar couldn’t find the answer himself.
If she didn’t know the answer, and he knew that…what was he getting at?
Playing along, she said, “I have microscopic thorns in my fingertips. When I touch someone who I want to use as a host, I inject them by touching any part of their skin. Once the thorn is in their bloodstream, it enters the brain. Once it’s in place there, I see the addition in this form.” She pointed at the lights.
Chollar nodded once as if he was accepting her words. But he wore a look of…superiority. She didn’t like that.
“Once someone is infected, you control the connection,” he said. “You can invade their dreams and force them to lose consciousness, correct?”
“Yes.” But she never abused her hosts. Most didn’t even know they shared their sleep with her. She only took what she needed, and even then, she didn’t take from the same host each time.
“Good to know.”
Good to know?
Jandy didn’t like the uneasy feeling that swamped her. Does he think he’s going to use me to control someone else? Because that isn’t happening.
“That’s exactly what I plan on doing, Jandy.”
Oh, was it?
Jandy lifted her chin and pointed to her left, mentally installing a door. “It’s time you leave. You weren’t welcome to begin with, and now I’m uninviting you and banning you from ever coming back.”
“I’m very serious right now.”
“I know you are, but that doesn’t change the situation. I’m still your master.”
Her master? No. Not ever.
Slicing her hand through the air, Jandy’s furniture broke into splinters. Chollar jumped up, holding out both hands. Memories assaulted her vision.
She saw them but didn’t let them distract her. Jandy no longer cared that Chollar knew what she had survived.
“I don’t want to fight you. You need to stop. You have no idea what I can do to you.”
This wasn’t going to be a fight. This was going to be a smackdown. He thought he could control her from inside her own mind? Not happening.
Reaching out, she grabbed hold of Chollar’s essence and pulled at his sleep, at his energy. It was like drinking scalding-hot water. It burned all the way down. Refusing to let the pain stop her, she drew in as much as she could handle.
“What are you doing? How are you doing that? Stop. STOP,” Chollar bellowed.
She didn’t stop. She drew in more.
“Stop, or we’ll both die.” His voice broke on the last word.
Jandy stopped stealing his energy, but she didn’t let go of his essence. Chollar’s dream form was breathing heavily. His shoulders sagged as he held a hand to his forehead.
And he thought he was her master?
Pfft. “The next time you invade a Silk Demon’s mind palace, remember this, we don’t like being told what to do.”
Chollar didn’t respond for a moment. His grey skin seemed even paler.
Available March 4, 2020 here on Amazon.