Being psychic must be great, they say. You’d get all the free stock tips you could ever want, be able to dominate conversations, and rule the world. Asimov wrote about a psychic mutant so powerful that he conquered the known galaxy.

Me? I deliver pizzas to drunk Southern Michigan University students in Hopewell.

You might ask, or think about asking, why this is. I’ll know either way, but only if you’re coherent.

Peoples’ thoughts are a disorganized soup from which comprehensible words and images only haphazardly arise. So while it’s easy to see what someone’s about to say, the lead time is really short–a second or less. Most people just don’t think that far ahead, and they think so fast that it’s tough to keep up.

That’s when you aren’t getting flashes of suppressed desires and gummed-in stale jokes. So much of what I pick up is farts and sex. SO MUCH.

Add to that the fact that I have to focus and pay attention. If I think about something else, it’s like overhearing a conversation a room over. I might get the gist, I might not. But it can be exhausting and distracting picking up on the sexual fantasies of a 68-year-old in the next apartment over when you’re trying to study, believe you me.

I also don’t fit into the “Esmerelda the gypsy” mold that people expect from psychics. I am built like a linebacker, six feet tall and 200 lbs plus. Ladies aren’t meant to be that big, at least not according to clothing stores. People don’t think as much when you intimidate them, and their thoughts often turn to critiquing my appearance as a Bride of Frankenstein.

Which leads me to Papa Przewalski’s Pizza. It offers three things that are extremely valuable to a psychic: flexible hours, free food, and long stretches where I can plug my headphones in and blast other peoples’ thoughts out of my head with heavy metal music.

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“Well, here’s the thing. Perp was walking through a public space–a park–with his little kid. Then, out of nowhere, he starts screaming and beats a guy who was sitting on a bench to within an inch of his life.”

“What about the bench guy? What have we got on him?”

“Guy’s scum. Registered sex offender with two strikes. We catch him within a mile of an elementary school and he’s going away for a long time.”

“Well, that’s that, then. Guy said something he shouldn’t have about the kid, daddy beats him down for it. Poetic justice.”

“That’s just it. The place was packed with witnesses, Jerry, and they all swear that the bench guy didn’t breathe a word before he was attacked. Wasn’t even leering. As far as we can tell, it was an unprovoked assault.”

“Hmm. Did they know each other from anywhere?”

“Doesn’t look like it. Perp was an out-of-towner.”

“You know, I got a report around the same time of two chicks getting in a shouting match and eventually getting bagged for disturbing the peace. One said the other had called her names, but we’ve got witnesses saying the place was silent as Highpointe Cemetery beforehand.”

“I’ve got a feeling, Jerry, that I don’t like where this is going.”

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“Welcome home,” said Pavlov. It was an even bet as to which terrified Hardwick more: that an intruder was in his home, or that the intruder had spoken without moving his lips.

“W-who are you? What are you doing here? Get out!” screamed Hardwick, dropping his load of groceries. Vinegar from a shattered bottle of pickles pooled around his shoes as he fumbled for his cell phone.

“That won’t be necessary.” Pavlov once again spoke without moving a muscle. He simply kept his dark eyes fixed on Hardwick, gleaming beneath his slicked-back helmet of black hair and high domed forehead.

Hardwick’s arm went limp, and his smartphone cracked its screen as it tumbled to the hardwood floor. “Sutton sent you.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Of course.” Pavlov’s eyes were unblinking, his thin lips pursed and closed.

“How…how did you find me?” there was a hint of resignation and despair in Hardwick’s voice.

There was no real reason Pavlov had to answer the man’s entreaties, but whether out of pity or a desire to gloat, he did so: “You left a thousand breadcrumbs. People have seen you, spoken to you, heard rumors. I took those breadcrumbs from their minds and followed them to the loaf. It wasn’t hard; no harder than a voracious reader tracking a fact through a library of open books.”

“What happens now?” Hardwick was frozen; he wasn’t sure f it was fear of some kind of paralysis like that Pavlov had induced in his arm a moment ago. He also failed to notice that his lips were not moving; the conversation had seamlessly shaded over into the realm of extrasensory perception.

“I will search your mind to see if you actually possess the information that Sutton believes you to. Then I will wipe its contents clean.”

There was an ominous, disinterested finality in Pavlov’s remarks, even though his face was as a mask throughout. Many would blubber or gibber helplessly at this point, but–whatever his other flaws may have been–Hardwick was able to keep his composure in the face of looming destruction.

“Will it…hurt?”

“Did it hurt before you were born? Does it hurt when you are asleep?” Pavlov thought evenly. “I see here that you know many of the things Sutton hoped, but not nearly as many as he feared. It was a foolish move to try and parlay such pittances into a plea bargain and a reward, but smarter men have transgressed for smaller prizes.”

It was done. Pavlov’s expression was one of intense discomfort for a moment, and then Hardwick crumpled to the floor, every neuron in his brain still functioning but completely devoid of the engrams which had represented a functioning mind. The psychic hitman calmly walked out through the open door, while Hardwick’s police handler found him unresponsive hours later. The witness was assumed to have suffered a massive stroke, and was left in a persistent vegetative state in an area hospice.

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My problem isn’t so much that I think to much, but that I think too *hard*. You know the type–people that are lost in concentration over the smallest decisions, grappling with what kind of coffee to order like the fate of the free world hangs in the balance.

Though I will allow that the fact I have massive latent psychic potential does complicate things a dash.

After what happened to Uncle Grey in the Great Meltdown of ’02, which could be felt by psi-actives as far away as Irkutsk and leveled an area of the Montana Badlands the size of Rhode Island, I’ve been on a strict regiment of zen and GesteCo Psi-Suppresitol. But it doesn’t always work when I’m a thinky mood.

Like the time I was trying to decide between cheese and pepperoni at Herculaneum Pizzeria and the gas tanks of six parked cars exploded simultaneously.

Or the time I was decided whether to reply to *mastrlvr1066* on Cupyd’s Arrow dot com and caused a waterspout in my complex’s pool.

Or the time I was taking the GRE and caused eighteen nosebleeds and a six-week coma.

But they all pale in comparison to the time Jimmy Drummond asked me upstairs at Phi Qoppa Beta.

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“Okay, let’s go over everything again,” said the dessicated packet of Old Martha’s Hazlenut No. 1 tea. The oldest packet by far in the cupboard of Madame Vizcacha (born Gertrude Nussbaum), Old Martha’s Hazlenut No. 1 had been forgotten in a corner for years, even after Celestial Seasonings had bought her parent company and ruthlessly gutted it. It had taken on the post of unofficial leader, organizing the other teas and keeping them motivated to pass their prophecies on to Madame Vizcacha with clarity and focus.

“Number one! What’s your prophecy?” Old Martha’s Hazlenut No. 1 said, addressing the contents of a newly-opened box of Ch√Ęteau Piccard brand Earl Grey packets.

“Flat tire from a broken beer bottle at the corner of 8th and main!” the first Earl Grey tea barked.

“Number two!”

“Mr. Brandstead’s wife is considering leaving him for a Nordic masseuse!” cried the second. “That’s what she’ll read in my leaves!”

“Number three!”

“Extinction of all life on earth if the Large Haldron Collider is turned on between 2:17 and 2:19 AM local Swiss time!”

“Number four!” Old Martha’s Hazlenut No. 1 cried at the last occupant of the box, which Madame Vizcacha had been drinking through in reverse order.

“Umm…” Earl Grey No. 4 hesitated.

Old Martha’s Hazlenut No. 1 sighed. “Focus! You need to receive your wisdom from the aether in order to pass it on! It’s your life’s purpose, so make sure you get it right!”

Frankly, Earl Grey No. 4 thought that its life’s purpose was to be a scarf-wearing hipster’s trendy substitute for coffee, but it was in no position to argue. “An angry customer in two hours looking for a refund,” it said at length. “He’s not happy that Madame Vizcacha’s romantic advice didn’t turn out as he hoped.”

“No refunds,” barked Old Martha’s Hazlenut No. 1, echoing Madame Vizcacha’s well-known life motto. “It’s not her fault that prophecy came from a bad Metromart Generic Tea No. 7. There’s a reason those are so cheap.”

From an idea by breylee.

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As the attendant gave Jeremy his ticket and the change from his thousand-ruble note, his hand brushed the cash register. A vision sprang into his head, clear as day: an employee slyly opening the till and pocketing a stack of bills.

Jeremy sighed, and pulled his glove back on. “Always something bad,” he muttered, and pushed through the turnstile into the museum proper.

Bypassing the indoor exhibits, he strolled outside, where an impressive array of armored tanks and fighting vehicles were arrayed along a semicircular path. This was Kubinka, the great tank museum of Russia and the former Soviet Union, and every vehicle here had a story to tell.

“And they’ll all be tragic, horrible, wretched things,” Jeremy muttered. Military things always were. He recalled a visit to the Smithsonian, pressing his palm against the Enola Gay and witnessing a blinding flash and ever-expanding fireball.

There was nothing for it, though. Jeremy reached into his pocket and produced a dog-eared sheaf of photocopies. An article on the top detailed the tragic fate of one Jeroen Schoenborn, accused of disabling his tank at Kursk in an act of cowardice, later tried and executed for the same. Painstaking research had led his grandson to Kubinka, where most survivors of that great battle could be found.

And he’d touch them all, regardless of the pain it’d cause, to learn the truth.

Out in the Permeable Lands, long decades of overuse have left the fabric of reality fragile and mutable. In most places, it takes a psychic of enormous power to alter their surroundings. Not so the Permeable Lands: humans of average ability can mold reality as well as a Class 10 out there.

Living out there, as many have chosen to do, presents enough benefits and challenges to come out a wash. There’s no need to worry about building materials or food; a little thinking is enough to spawn a farmhouse and acres of crops. It takes a little more training and practice to form complex machines or gourmet foods, which has led to a thriving industry of Permeable Landers providing those services for a fee or offering training. Animals and such are harder still, but well within the capabilities of someone who puts their mind to it. So one need not worry after food or shelter out there.

On the other hand, it takes a superbly organized mind to create only the things one wants to create. Many Permeable Landers are inundated with detritus–things they create unconsciously. It’s impossible to move anything they create into places where reality has remained strong; the vast Impermeable Lands mean certain fading destruction to anything wrought from permeability. Rumors abound of people created from permeability, generations ago, who would turn to ash if they left. And then there are the stories of people thinking others into oblivion, or powerful Class 8’s enslaving entire communities.

Yes, when one moved to the Permeable Lands it was as much a gamble as anything. And Petron was gambling it would be his salvation.

Katya’s idea was to craft an epic tale around characters who had each mastered one of the six senses: sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste, and the psychic sixth sense. In addition to giving the tale a Kurasawa-esque scope, juggling a narrative between so many characters and viewpoints virtually guaranteed something to scribble about; goodbye, writer’s block!

Most of the characters practically created themselves. Sight would have to be an eagle-eyed, reticent marksman, a crack shot with bow or rifle (Katya hadn’t decided between a high fantasy or steampunk setting yet), and most likely the member of an ancient oft-oppressed group that would have to be invented. Tall, dark, and handsome, of course.

Mr. Smell would be a werewolf, or perhaps only raised by wolves since Katya was always very concerned about accusations of trendy bandwagon-jumping. Regardless of his precise origins, he’d be savage and animalistic, eschewing weapons for tooth and nail yet concealing a deep and soulful well of feeling. He would be cleaned up, erect, and in a pressed and starched garment by adventure’s end, no doubt.

The Hero of Hearing would be blind, either a Zatoichi-type veteran warrior or an up and coming young prodigy but definitely blinded by a tragedy. The Hearo would be the understanding type, never judgmental but always supportive and humorous.

Touch was a bit hard to wrap her head around, but Katya conceived of him as an ascetic monk who could set up deadly vibrations in opponents simply by touching them. The Touch of Death would be too difficult to control, leaving him unable to touch another human being for fear of accidentally turning them to jelly in what Katya thought was a deliciously original and complex twist.

Psychics were easy; Katya’s would be a wisecracker, always interrupting people to tell them what they’d been about to say, very superior but at the same time concealing a tortured yet generous heart. There was no final decision of the cause of his condition; alien abduction, genetic mutation, and an ancient Amun-Ra curse were all viable candidates.

Despite all that, she simply could not wrap her head around the last Sensible Hero, taste. How did a sense of taste, superhuman or no, translate into a hunky and conflicted warrior? He couldn’t very well go around licking things, and a Beefeater made for a poor quest-hero even when she allowed for the possibility of carnivorous ravens at beck and call.