​​Naya drew a deep breath while sliding into the hot spring. She sank below the surface of the pool for a second before finding a short ledge to rest her rump. When her face bobbed back out of the water, the night air brushed a pleasant coolness over the shaved back and sides of her head, while the long plait of the hair atop it floated around her shoulder.

Ancient radioactive fallout made the water glow through the darkness with a murky grey tint that obscured her nakedness while highlighting the deep mahogany hue of skin exposed to the air. She waited for the tranquility that the spring’s soothing heat and high radiation normally induced in Naturttans. Instead, an irritating itch persisted deep inside her brain, raising the possibility of an unwanted guest nearby who might disturb the solitude of her mountain sabbatical.

“Hello?” Naya yelled out to the darkness. “Is someone out there?”

​The prospect made her cringe, but the alarm smoldering inside her diminished after she scanned the surrounding clearing and found nothing other than acacia trees. She assumed mental fatigue, not the mind-merge precursor, to be the cause of the itch, and closed her eyes with the hope that the spring’s warm tingly caress would relieve it.

After a few minutes, a soft blanket of rain fell on the mountain. Naya hoped the sound of its patter over vegetation would bring her solace from the irritating brain itch, but it continued to pester her. Instead, the rain added to her frustration as it became heavier and the accompanying winds increased. After about a half-hour, a flash of lightning and clap of thunder snapped Naya’s eyes open again.

I’d better get out of here, she conceded with frustration. This rain is turning into a storm. I’ll have to find some other way to get this itch out of my head…Even if I have to cut it out…That’s what I’ll do. I’ll cut it out…I’ll cut him out…I’ll cut him out of my body…I’ll get out of this bed and get a knife from the kitchen and cut him out…I’ll...

Another lightning flash and thunder clap snatched Naya’s mind back to reality. “Goddess!” She exclaimed with the realization that a foreign psyche had slipped into her head, the result of someone close enough, or disturbed enough, to trigger a fractional mind-merge.

“Anyone out there?” She yelled again while climbing out of the spring on trembling legs.

Her eyes searched the surrounding forest again, her gaze intense and frantic until the continued escalation in weather forces compelled her attention to the panorama of acacia trees covering the mountain above and below her. They bowed up and down as if pleading for mercy from the gale-force wind howling through their branches. Their gusts whipped her face and breasts with her hair plait and slung stinging rain against her naked body.

Keep calm, Naya told herself. Let the storm help you fend off the merge, the way mama taught you.

She gritted her teeth but didn’t close her eyes, hoping the tempest would overwhelm her senses and deny sanctuary to the foreign psyche. But despite her efforts, another startling voice popped into her head.​​